January 05, 2017

Tallahassee mayor blasts gun lobby, launches campaign against special-interest 'bullies'

Andrew Gillum

@ByKristenMClark

In advance of oral arguments before an appeals court next week, Tallahassee's Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum is taking aim at the gun lobby -- and using that as a stepping stone to launch a "grassroots effort" to protect local governments' control on an array of high-profile issues.

Gillum is among a short-list of Democrats believed to be considering a run for governor in 2018, and an initiative of this kind could help boost his name recognition outside the state's capital city.

Gun-rights groups sued Gillum and other Tallahassee officials a couple years ago when city leaders declined to repeal an ordinance prohibiting the shooting of guns in a public park. The lawsuit goes before the First District Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

In a post published Thursday on Medium, Gillum criticizes the NRA -- although Florida Carry, Inc. initiated the lawsuit -- and laments their "spending big money to take away local voices and local control, using tactics called preemption and super-preemption."

"We hope to set a precedent for challenging these 'super-preemption' overreaches," Gillum wrote. "Our partners recognize that if these threats are deployed today by the gun lobby, there’s nothing stopping special interests from coming after protections for immigrants, the LGBT community, the environment, and others. We want to stand up to these bullies everywhere they show up."

That's why Gillum says he's launching the "Campaign to Defend Local Solutions." He said the grassroots group wants to "send a message to state lawmakers" and has plans for events to address "looming threats on issues like minimum wage and health benefits, the environment, local hiring practices and water quality."

The campaign is using a hashtag (#DefendLocal) to promote itself on social media, and a website has been launched -- although, for now, the only information on it is a form to collect names, zip codes and email addresses of its supporters.

Besides Gillum, other Democrats said to be weighing campaigns for governor are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando attorney John Morgan, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

December 20, 2016

Open-carry bill should have a friendlier path next year in Florida Senate

Guns

@ByKristenMClark

For the past two legislative sessions, the Florida Senate had been the blockade for NRA-endorsed gun bills, but the odds are now greater that that trend won't continue in 2017.

A contentious and comprehensive bill that allows for the open-carrying of handguns and otherwise expands gun-owners' rights in Florida will have an easier path to the Senate floor next spring, thanks to friendlier committee assignments than similar proposals that previously stalled.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has sent SB 140 -- by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube -- to be heard before three committees, all chaired by conservative Republicans who passionately support gun-owners' rights. They are: Steube's Judiciary Committee; Government Oversight & Accountability, chaired by Dennis Baxley of Ocala; and Rules, chaired by Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers.

Committee assignments are a routine step that is typically not significant but, in this case, is quite revealing of Senate leadership's support for Steube's wide-ranging measure.

Notably: The bill will not be reviewed by the Criminal Justice Committee, a common stop for past gun-related legislation. That committee is now chaired by an Orlando Democrat, Randolph Bracy.

When reporters asked Negron about Steube's bill earlier Tuesday -- before the committee assignments were published -- Negron was vague on where the bill would be routed.

His spokeswoman, Katie Betta, told the Herald/Times this afternoon: "The President referenced the bill to the committees he deemed appropriate, based on his judgement after reviewing the bill."

"I've always been a strong proponent of Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," Negron told reporters earlier Tuesday. "A particular bill, we'll have to see what components are in it. Obviously I have a lot of confidence in Senator Steube."

Steube's legislation would allow nearly 1.7 million people with with concealed-weapons permits in Florida to openly carry their firearms. It would also remove several locations from the list where concealed weapons are currently banned -- allowing guns at legislative meetings, local government meetings, airport passenger terminals and public schools, colleges and universities.

There's no guarantee that Steube's bill has the votes to pass, but these committee assignments at least give it a better chance at advancing.

The stopgap in previous legislative sessions that had prevented similar gun proposals from reaching the Senate floor had been then-Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. He had denied such bills the chance to be heard at his committee, let alone voted on. He lost re-election in November to Democrat José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

Proposals calling for open carry and to allow concealed weapons in airport passenger terminals and on public college and university campuses have been filed in the House for next session as well, but as individual pieces of legislation.

Photo credit: AP

December 16, 2016

Miami Gardens Democrat wants to ban concealed guns at Florida arts centers, theaters

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@ByKristenMClark

Concealed firearms and other weapons are already banned from more than a dozen specific places in Florida, like polling sites, schools or sporting events.

And while conservative lawmakers want to take some locations off that list in 2017, one Miami Gardens senator thinks an addition is needed.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon filed legislation this week (SB 170) that would ban concealed weapons from "any performing arts center or legitimate theater."

Braynon said the inspiration for the bill came from his experience serving as a board member overseeing the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

"You see all these events -- whether Pulse or the movie theater (in Aurora, Colo.) -- places where people are gathered and you know what time they're going to be there, maybe we need to be more vigilant, more cautious," Braynon said.

A permit is required to carry a concealed firearm or weapon in Florida. Nearly 1.7 million people have such permits.

In Florida's Republican-led Legislature, proposals to open up gun-owners' rights to carry are more commonly considered and supported than ones like Braynon's that could restrict those rights.

Nonetheless, Braynon said he's optimistic his bill could get consideration and that his Senate colleagues will view his proposal as reasonable and one that's in line with existing Florida law.

But one key Republican senator said Braynon's proposal is already a non-starter.

Continue reading "Miami Gardens Democrat wants to ban concealed guns at Florida arts centers, theaters" »

December 12, 2016

Steube files comprehensive bill changing how and where gun-owners could pack heat

Steube 2014  - keelerFrom the News Service of Florida:

Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, introduced a controversial measure Friday that would allow the more than 1.67 million Floridians with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry handguns.

Steube's bill (SB 140), which is filed for the 2017 legislative session, also would expand the places where people with concealed-weapons licenses are allowed to carry guns. It would allow them to be armed at legislative meetings; local government meetings; elementary and secondary schools; airport passenger terminals; and college and university campuses.

License holders would still be prohibited from carrying weapons at locations such as police stations, jails, courtrooms, polling places and most bars.

During the 2016 session, the open-carry measure was approved 80-38 in the House but failed to advance through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by former Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. Diaz de la Portilla lost a re-election bid in November.

A bill that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on university and college campuses also died in the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 2016 session. Last week, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, reintroduced a House version of the campus-carry measure (HB 6005) for the 2017 session. Also, Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, has proposed a bill (HB 6001) that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns into the passenger terminals of airports.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

December 08, 2016

FSU President John Thrasher still no fan of guns on campus

John-thrasherfrom @LloydDunk of the News Service of Florida:

In his annual "state of the university" address on Wednesday, Florida State University President John Thrasher reiterated his strong opposition to allowing guns on university and college campuses.

As a member of the Florida Senate, Thrasher helped kill a bill in 2011 that would have allowed gun owners with concealed-weapons licenses to bring their firearms to Florida's university and state-college campuses.

"I opposed it. I killed it. I have worked against it since then," Thrasher told the FSU faculty. "And you have my promise that I will work against it this year also."

The so-called "campus carry" bill, which in the past has been approved by the House, has already re-emerged as an issue for the 2017 legislative session. Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, filed a new version of the bill (HB 6005) on Wednesday.

The issue also may have more support in 2017 in the Senate, where newly elected Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, a major supporter, has been named chairman of the Judiciary Committee. That committee is where the proposal, strongly backed by Second Amendment groups, died during the 2016 session.

Thrasher, a former House speaker and Senate Rules Committee chairman, said he continues to agree with other university and college leaders, campus law enforcement officials and faculty members "that having more guns on campus does not make our campus safer."

Continue reading "FSU President John Thrasher still no fan of guns on campus" »

December 07, 2016

Guns-on-campus proposal will return for third year in a row

Guns

@ByKristenMClark

A highly contentious proposal to allow concealed firearms on Florida's 40 public college and university campuses will be back before the Legislature for the third year in a row.

State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, filed legislation (HB 6005) on Wednesday reviving the NRA-backed proposal for the 2017 session. His bill is identical to language lawmakers have considered, but failed to enact, for the past two sessions.

State Sen. Greg Steube -- a conservative Sarasota Republican who last year sponsored the guns-on-campus measure in the House -- has said he's drafting a comprehensive gun bill for 2017, and it could likely include the campus-carry proposal.

In the 2017 session, Floridians can expect a similar debate as last spring when the guns-on-campus bill easily passed the conservative House but faced significant hurdles in the more moderate Senate.

Then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, refused to give the bill a hearing for each of the last two sessions, saying last spring that campus-carry was "bad public policy" and that it lacked the votes to pass the Senate. (Diaz de la Portilla lost his re-election bid in November to Miami Democrat José Javier Rodríguez.)

Steube is now the Judiciary chairman for the next two years, but the Republicans' majority in the Senate is slightly narrower for the 2016-18 term, with 25 Republicans to 15 Democrats.

While supported by gun-rights advocates, the "campus-carry" measure has had resounding opposition from college and university presidents and police chiefs, as well as some student and teacher organizations.

Proponents argue a law allowing concealed guns on campuses would afford students, teachers and staff a better ability to defend themselves against attackers, such as mass-shooters or rapists. But critics say the measure could actually endanger campuses rather than make them safer, as well as force increased security costs on universities -- where campus police continue to be understaffed -- and on colleges, where administrators last year unsuccessfully sought $74 million from the Legislature to beef up their campus security operations.

As of Nov. 30, there were nearly 1.7 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida.

Photo credit: AP

July 06, 2016

Miami gunfire victim, others push Congress to pass controls

@jamesmartinrose

Gun violence victims from Miami and other cities rallied outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and demanded that Congress act on pending legislation to limit firearms sales in the wake of the Orlando massacre last month.

Wearing orange T-shirts to commemorate the 49 people murdered in Orlando and others shot to death, the activists heard rousing remarks from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Lewis trying to continue the momentum for gun controls sparked by an unusual overnight sit-in the civil rights icon led on the House floor two weeks ago.

“The American public deserves so much more from our nation’s leaders than constant arguing,” Antwan Reeves, a Miami-Dade Schools employee who survived an automatic-rifle attack on him and his cousin in Miami Gardens last November, told reporters and spectators at the rally.

Saying “it’s a miracle that I’m here today,” Reeves told a riveting story of how he and his cousin, St. Louis Rams receiver Stedman Bailey, were sprayed with gunfire Nov. 24 while they sat in a car at Northwest 199th Street and 38th Place. Another vehicle pulled up alongside them, and an occupant opened fire as Reeves shielded two of his children in the backseat of their car.

Reeves took 11 bullets while Bailey was shot twice in the head, but both men survived after Reeves somehow drove to Aventura Hospital and Medical Center and each underwent emergency surgery.

“The weapons used during that night of madness left behind 40 shell casings,” Reeves said at Wednesday’s demonstration. “These types of weapons should not be in possession of ordinary citizens.”

Rep. Frederica Wilson, Reeves’ representative in the House, also attended the protest.

“We’re going to need the American public and pressure from the people of this nation to help us in this battle,” Wilson told reporters after the rally.

She added: “I am tired of burying little black boys (in my community), and I even have a foundation set aside to pay for their funerals. So we’re going to fight. I’ve been in this battle for a long time, and I do not intend to give up now.”

Since the June 12 tragedy in Orlando, Republicans who control the Senate and the House have blocked mainly Democratic efforts to pass “No Fly, No Buy” legislation that would make it more difficult for people on FBI terror watch lists to purchase guns.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Miami-Dade and David Jolly of Indian Shores, Fla., are among a small number of Republicans who have broken with their party and pushed for those limited controls.

June 21, 2016

Alan Grayson calls for Florida Legislature to adopt Connecticut's assault weapons ban

@ByKristenMClark

Attempting symbolic similarity to Martin Luther and his "95 Theses" to the Catholic Church, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson on Tuesday urged the Republican-led Florida Legislature to adopt stricter gun control measures in the aftermath of last week's shooting massacre at a gay nightclub near his district.

The Orlando congressman affixed to the doors of the Florida House and Senate chambers in Tallahassee a summary of the bill analysis for the law Connecticut passed a few months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in that state four years ago. Assault weapons were used in both the Orlando and Newtown tragedies.

"It's much too easy in America today to kill so many people so quickly," Grayson told reporters who captured his photo op in the Florida Capitol. "This bill ended that for people in Connecticut."

He said seven states have adopted either bans or heavy restrictions on assault weapons, and "I think that this state needs to do that."

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, didn't acknowledge Grayson's request when asked for comment by the Herald/Times, but he did slam Grayson for using the Orlando shooting for political gain.

"Last week, our first-responders bravely and selflessly ran into the Pulse nightclub to end the horrible terror attack in Orlando," Crisafulli said in a statement. "That is quite a contrast to Congressman Alan Grayson who is using the same tragedy to run in front of television cameras to gain attention for his floundering U.S. Senate campaign."

Continue reading "Alan Grayson calls for Florida Legislature to adopt Connecticut's assault weapons ban" »

June 16, 2016

Florida House leader Corcoran urges support for vigil after 'unfortunate' pro-gun mailer

via @stevebousquet

CorcoranflyerScan_2016-6-14_0002_8colState Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, the House speaker-designate, is urging his constituents to attend a vigil Thursday in memory of the victims of the Orlando massacre. Sponsored by the city of New Port Richey, the event will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Sims Park. Participants are urged to bring a single flower to place in a wreath.

"We will be standing together as one to show that we will not be defeated but instead grow stronger," Corcoran said in announcing the event.

In the past few days, some of Corcoran's constituents received a different message from him: a re-election campaign mailer that shows pictures of bullets as well as two photos of guns, including one in which Corcoran is holding a firearm.

Corcoran acknowledged the terrible timing of the mailing and said it was sent last Wednesday, June 8, four days before the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The piece, sent to about 3,200 voters identified as past supporters of the Second Amendment, reflects the majority party's opposition to gun restrictions.

In a statement to the Herald/Times, Corcoran said: "The information sent in the mail was created and sent prior to the tragic events in Orlando. The unfortunate timing of a piece of mail, however, should not shift attention from the tragic and heinous attack by a radical Islamic terrorist. No matter how much some want to use this event to divide us, I remain steadfast in my belief that law abiding Americans must have a Second Amendment right to defend themselves and that we must not give in to the politically correct voices of division."

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June 15, 2016

Orlando leaders: The shooting has been transformational

Buddy Dyer OrlandoOrlando's mayors said Wednesday that the community response to the shooting has been transformational -- not only pulling the community together with support and resources but also leading people to what they say is a better acceptance of the LGBT community. 

"It's hard to say we might find a silver lining in this thing but the way our community has come together and stood united and started thinking about different ways to approach each other,'' said Mayor Buddy Dyer at a press conference on Wednesday.

He noted that at the interdenominational prayer service held at the First Baptist Church of Orlando last night, there were many from the LGBTQ community. "There was a lot of reflection by those who might not have been supportive of that community in the past,'' he said. "There's some healing and I think there's going to be more understanding, more discussion, more willingness to be open and embrace diversity and equality."

"So if there's anything at all that could come good out of this it is the fact that we stand more united than ever and that we are more understanding of each other,'' he said.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs echoed that sentiment.

"This is an opportunity for us as a community to learn how to care more, how to understand more and I think we owe it to every one of those victims to re-evaluate as a society -- and certainly as a Central Florida society -- how we treat those who think and feel differently than we do,'' she said.

She said the prayer service Tuesday night was "the most dramatic change that I have ever seen in how our churches respond to the LGBT community."

The night before the service at her Catholic Church dedicated its service to the community.

"Sometimes, it's been a little hard to be Catholic to be honest with you but we have a pope who has brought a new light and a new way of thinking,'' she said. "Last night having all those faith-based leaders saying we want to huge and we want to pray for everyone in the LGBT community who are either directly affected or indirectly affected. That's transformational."  

The mayors announced the opening of  a Family Assistance Center at the former Citrus Bowl that will includes child and family services, grief counseling, ground transportation and airlines assistance for family members, language translation, legal help, help with funeral arrangements and more. 

Dyer started a OneFlorida fund on Tuesday and in its first day had raised $2 million for the victims of families.