April 06, 2017

House approves "Stand Your Ground" shift, but it's different than the Senate

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Criminal defendants in Florida who are charged with a wide array of violent acts — including murder, assault and domestic violence — could soon have an easier go at claiming they were justified to act in self-defense, legally stood their ground and don’t deserve to be prosecuted.

After failing to pass a single committee in the House last session, a controversial NRA-backed proposal that would shift the burden of proof to prosecutors during pretrial hearings for “Stand Your Ground” cases is on the verge of becoming law this spring.

Despite vehement objections from state attorneys, gun-control advocates and the entire Democratic caucus, the Republican-led Florida House on Wednesday passed SB 128 — on a 74-39 party-line vote — after representatives made changes from the version the Senate approved last month.

Floor debate lasted for nearly 90 minutes, as several Democrats spoke at length to warn of increased violence and other “irreversible and even deadly” consequences they say the legislation will cause.

“Flipping the burden of proof will do nothing more than increase the carnage that has been inflicted on our communities,” Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Bobby DuBose said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: More than a dozen volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America watch state House members debate proposed changes to Florida’s “stand your ground” law on April 5, 2017. The gun-control advocacy group opposes the legislation, SB 128. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

March 16, 2017

Some religious schools could be allowed to have guns

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Private schools with a religious institution on-site could decide for themselves if they want to allow armed security or concealed guns on their property, under a proposal that got preliminary approval from a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

The measure (HB 849) from Polk County Republican Rep. Neil Combee would carve out certain religious private schools from the Florida law that prohibits anyone except law enforcement officers from carrying guns in K-12 schools and colleges and universities, regardless of whether those schools are public or private.

Combee said houses of worship — such as churches, mosques or synagogues — that also have a daycare or school on their property cannot have armed security, because doing so would violate the state’s ban on guns in schools and certain other “gun-free” zones. 

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk County, presents a concealed weapons bill to the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. Steve Cannon / AP


Miami Republican Anitere Flores defects, opposes 'Stand Your Ground' changes

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This could be the year the Republican-led Florida Legislature succeeds in enacting a controversial change to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law that prosecutors warn could lead to a flood of self-defense claims and would force state attorneys to essentially try cases twice.

For the second consecutive session, Florida senators on Wednesday approved a bill (SB 128) from Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley to shift the burden of proof — from the defendant to the prosecutor — during the pretrial phase of “Stand Your Ground” cases.

The Senate voted 23-15 on Wednesday, mostly along party lines and drawing praise from Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“If a prosecutor doesn’t have the evidence to prevail at this immunity hearing ... the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to win at trial,” said Bradley, himself a former prosecutor. “Innocent people will not go free as a result of this bill; this bill isn’t about creating loopholes.”

Now it’s up to the House to finish considering its bill (HB 245), which already passed the milestone of clearing the same committee that abruptly killed it before the 2016 session began. It faces only one more hearing — a signal it’s marked as a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

In Wednesday’s Senate vote, Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — Negron’s No. 2 in the chamber — broke party ranks and voted with 14 Democrats in opposition, even though she previously approved the bill twice in committee earlier this year.

More here.

Image credit: Florida Channel

March 08, 2017

Bondi, Putnam, Atwater say they didn't seek out gun exemption. Senator says one of them did.



Three of Florida’s four highest-ranking elected officials — and potentially the lieutenant governor and the state’s 160 lawmakers, too — could be able to carry guns almost anywhere in the state under a special carve-out in Florida law being considered by the Legislature.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, who filed SB 646, said one of the three members of the Florida Cabinet “approached” him about proposing the exemption, which would let the Cabinet members carry concealed anywhere in Florida where federal law doesn’t prohibit guns, so long as they have a concealed-weapons permit.

That means — unlike most of the rest of the state’s 1.7 million concealed-weapons permit-holders — those statewide elected officials could be armed in the state’s 15 “gun-free zones,” such as in public schools, airport passenger terminals, police stations, government meetings, athletic events and bars.

RELATED: "These are gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017"

Steube would not say which Cabinet member — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — wanted the law changed for their benefit. Each of those offices is elected by voters statewide; Gov. Rick Scott oversees Cabinet meetings but is not himself a member of the Cabinet.

“I had a member that approached me, and they don’t have FDLE or trooper security full-time,” Steube told reporters Tuesday, referring to the security provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol.

However, spokespeople for Bondi and Atwater, and Putnam himself explicitly told the Herald/Times that they had not asked for the provision or were involved with Steube’s bill.

Read more here.

Photo credit: From left: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi sit with Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera and Gov. Rick Scott during the opening day of the 2017 legislative session on Tuesday, March 7. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Guns could be secured in courthouses in bill advanced by Senate committee

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A measure that would allow Florida’s 1.7 million concealed-weapons permit-holders to take their guns into courthouses and temporarily store them at security checkpoints advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Senators passed SB 616 by a 5-4 vote, after Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, the bill sponsor and chairman of the committee, pledged not to expand the bill as it continues through the legislative process.

The proposal does not go so far as to let conceal-carry permit-holders be armed within a courthouse. It would just give them the ability to continue carrying while they’re coming and going from the building, so that they don’t have to leave their guns in their vehicles.

Steube, himself an attorney, said the bill would particularly help attorneys defend themselves, as needed, while entering and leaving courthouses.

“I can’t tell you how many lawyers in my district who have told me they’ve had their lives threatened,” Steube said. For those who carry concealed, “they can’t carry from the car to the courthouse, because they can’t carry in the courthouse.”

More here. 

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

March 07, 2017

Cabinet members unaware of proposed provision exempting them from 'gun-free zones'


UPDATE: The bill was postponed. But Steube said after the meeting that one of the three Cabinet members — either Bondi, Atwater or Putnam — asked for the carve-out in state law. He won’t say which, but each told the Herald/Times they had no involvement in the proposal. More here.



Among many gun bills Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube has filed for the 2017 session, one proposal being considered for the first time Tuesday calls for letting the three members of the Florida Cabinet carry guns virtually anywhere -- so long as they have a concealed weapons permit and federal law doesn't prohibit guns in that location.

Each of the Cabinet members -- Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam -- said they were unaware until contacted by the Herald/Times this week that Steube had proposed exempting them from the state's "gun-free zones."

But only one Cabinet member -- Atwater -- would say whether they themselves might be affected by the potential law change.

Continue reading "Cabinet members unaware of proposed provision exempting them from 'gun-free zones'" »

February 22, 2017

The Florida House stopped changes to Stand Your Ground last session. Not so this year.

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An NRA-backed proposal to shift the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases appears to be on the fast-track for approval in the Florida House, echoing similar recent endorsements in the Senate — and with the same vehement opposition from state prosecutors and gun-control advocates.

After the proposal abruptly failed on a deadlocked vote in the same Florida House committee last session, members of the Republican-heavy Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 9-4, along party lines, on Wednesday to advance the legislation (HB 245). It faces only one more committee hearing before it could reach the floor.

An identical measure in the Florida Senate (SB 128) quickly cleared its two committees — despite similar concerns raised — and became the first bill from either chamber that was sent to the floor for the 2017 session, which begins March 7.

Through the legislation, conservative Republicans want to require state attorneys to prove in a preliminary hearing and beyond a reasonable doubt — a trial-level standard — why a criminal defendant should not get immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. That law allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense — with no obligation to retreat or flee.

MORE: “Bill seeks to shift burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases”

Current judicial practice is to have criminal defendants prove at a pre-trial hearing why they deserve the immunity.

The Florida Supreme Court held up this procedure in a 2015 ruling, but advocates for the bill — including the gun lobby and Florida’s public defenders — say it is unfair to defendants and contradicts what the Legislature wanted in enacting Stand Your Ground 12 years ago.

“This levels the playing field between the government and the citizen,” said Bob Dillinger, the public defender in Pinellas and Pasco counties, who spoke on behalf of the Florida Public Defender Association.

More here.

Photo credit: NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer shakes hands with Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne after a House Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing about proposed changes to Stand Your Ground on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Payne is sponsoring the House bill. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

February 21, 2017

Advocates for gun safety set to take on Republican-led Florida Legislature today

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Steve Frappier was one of the lucky ones in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6.

As a gunman abruptly opened fire that afternoon, killing five and wounding six, Frappier escaped injury when a bullet miraculously struck the laptop in his backpack instead of him.

Frappier, a former Coconut Grove resident who moved to Atlanta last summer, is taking that life-changing experience and turning it into advocacy.

He has joined Everytown for Gun Safety and other national gun-control organizations in calling on Florida lawmakers to oppose a slew of NRA-backed measures this spring that would make it easier for conceal-carry permit-holders to have guns in public places.

Among those measures is one that now hits close to home for Frappier: Allowing concealed guns in airport terminals.

Some conservative lawmakers argue the Fort Lauderdale airport tragedy might have had a different outcome or might have ended sooner with fewer casualties had concealed-weapons permit-holders been legally allowed to carry their guns in baggage claim.

The shooting lasted less than 90 seconds.

“That type of legislation actually feels like the survivors are being blamed — as if we should have been able to have been armed and done something about it,” Frappier said.

Frappier’s story is one of many that advocates from Everytown and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America hope will resonate with lawmakers as the two groups host a lobby day at the Florida Capitol on Tuesday.

Full story here.

Photo credit: A bullet was lodged in Steve Frappier’s laptop after suspected shooter Esteban Santiago opened fire in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6. Frappier has become a gun-safety advocate and is speaking out against proposals in the Florida Legislature that would allow the open-carrying of guns and allow guns in airports and other areas that are currently “gun-free zones.” (c/o Facebook)


February 15, 2017

After Pulse, Fort Lauderdale tragedies, 2 lawmakers want to end 'gun-free zones'


Concealed guns at Miami Dolphins games, local bars and even voting booths could be commonplace under a sweeping measure introduced this week in the Florida Legislature.

With the recent, tragic history of the Pulse nightclub massacre last June in Orlando and the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting last month, two conservative Republican lawmakers want to do away with all of Florida’s “gun-free zones” — 15 locations in state law where concealed weapons are currently prohibited.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, of Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, of The Villages, have proposed eliminating all state-imposed restrictions on where Florida’s concealed weapons permit-holders can carry their guns — with the goal of allowing businesses, institutions and people to have greater control over their own protection, Hahnfeldt said.

If the proposal (SB 908/HB 803) became law, that would mean concealed guns could be carried in a plethora of places they aren’t allowed now.

Full details here.

Photo credit: First responders secure the area outside of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near baggage claim in Terminal 2 on January 6, 2017. Five were killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

February 09, 2017

Proposed Stand Your Ground changes ready for Florida Senate vote


A controversial plan to change Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is ready for the full 40-member Florida Senate to vote on when the 2017 session begins March 7.

The Rules Committee voted, 8-2, on Thursday to send the measure to the floor, despite renewed objections from prosecutors and gun-control advocates who argue the plan (SB 128) would “dangerously expand” Stand Your Ground and make gun crimes “harder to prosecute.”

The bill is endorsed, though, by public defenders and the powerful gun lobby, including Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Tallahassee lobbyist.

Full story here.