December 17, 2015

Florida state colleges want $74M to improve campus security

Miami-dade's wolfson campus

@ByKristenMClark

Regardless of what happens to a controversial plan to allow guns on Florida's 40 state college and public university campuses, college presidents say they want to take steps to make their campuses safer.

The Council of Presidents voted Thursday morning to ask the Legislature to fund a $74 million, three-year plan to beef up campus security and pay for training, other resources and equipment at the 28 colleges.

The request -- which wasn't previously part of the college system's budget request -- is $37 million (or 50 percent of the total) for 2016-17 and $18.5 million for each of the following two years.

The guns-on-campus bills moving in the Legislature brought to light the need to "recognize and offer alternatives -- through this investment -- to address the campus security problem short of arming our students," Michael Brawer, executive director of the Association of Florida Colleges, said during the council's conference call meeting Thursday morning.

"It’s what we think we have to do to minimize damages as it relates to the whole new world we live in and the potential for active shooters," agreed Carol Probstfeld, president of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

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December 14, 2015

'Gun safety' proposal includes harsher penalties for permit violations

@ByKristenMClark

A Broward County Democrat has filed legislation for the 2016 session that's intended to promote gun safety by mandating more training for concealed-weapons permit-holders and requiring them to declare they're carrying when approached by any police officer or other first-responder.

In a statement Monday, Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, said her proposal protects Floridians’ Second Amendment rights while also enhancing the responsibilities of citizens who exercise that right using concealed weapons permits.

“This bill would provide a safety measure for the permit-holder licensee as well as the law enforcement officer,” Clarke-Reed said. “This respects our citizens’ constitutional rights and makes all of us more accountable.”

But House Bill 935 is likely to be met with some resistance from gun-rights advocates. It also would impose harsher penalties for permit-holders who fail to disclose that they're carrying or who fail to present their conceal-carry license "when approached by or upon demand by a first-responder." (First-responders include police, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians.)

The proposal would drastically increase the fine for violating those requirements to $1,000 (from $25), and it calls for suspending or revoking a gun-owner's conceal-carry license if they violate that provision a second time.

Among the enhanced training requirements, the bill would require permit-holders to take a firearms course that includes "a minimum of six hours of certified firearm training and six hours of gun safety education."

The bill was filed Friday. It has not been referred to any committees yet and it has no Senate companion, a necessity for it to have a chance at becoming law.

Nearly 1.5 million people -- including 204,000 out-of-state residents -- have permits to carry concealed weapons in Florida.

December 03, 2015

Florida Senate could consider stand-your-ground changes in January

@ByKristenMClark

Proposed changes that strengthen Florida's “stand your ground” law are headed to the full Florida Senate in January, after passing a third and final committee hearing Thursday.

But the new version of Senate Bill 344, which was endorsed unanimously by the Senate Rules Committee, is more tempered than previous drafts due to a sweeping amendment offered by chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

The compromise is intended to make the proposal more palatable to critics. Gun-rights advocates -- such as the National Rifle Association and Florida Carry -- said they "can live with" the changes but preferred the original version, which offered defendants even greater protection from prosecution.

The bill filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, shifted the burden of proof in a preliminary hearing to prosecutors, requiring them to show "beyond a reasonable doubt" why a defendant is not entitled to a stand-your-ground defense.

The revised bill keeps that shift but requires prosecutors to prove only "clear and convincing evidence" -- a lower threshold.

"There are reasons a prosecutor shouldn’t have to bear the burden beyond all reasonable doubt in a preliminary hearing because there are unforeseen and complicated circumstances of doing that," Simmons said, citing double-jeopardy implications as one example.

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November 30, 2015

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio dominate PolitiFact Florida's Top 5 for November 2015

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Statements by South Florida’s GOP presidential rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio led PolitiFact Florida’s website in November, touching on taxes and Rubio’s spending while speaker of the Florida House.

Here are the five most-read fact-checks from PolitiFact Florida in November, counting down to the most popular.

November 20, 2015

NRA attacks Miami Rep. Trujillo for 'betrayal' of gun owners' rights

From The News Service of Florida:

Gun-rights advocates are targeting a Miami lawmaker after a bill to broaden the state's controversial "stand your ground" law was scuttled at the Capitol. The National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida emailed its members Thursday calling the actions by House Criminal Justice Chairman Carlos Trujillo an "orchestrated" betrayal of "law-abiding gun owners," as the measure died on a 6-6 vote two days earlier.

Trujillo and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined four Democrats in opposing the measure, which proposed to shift the burden of proof to the state in cases involving the "stand your ground" law. Under the 2005 law, people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

"It is important to recognize and remember the committee members who were loyal to the Constitution and your right of self-defense --- as well it is the betrayers," said the email from Marion Hammer, an influential lobbyist for both groups.

Hammer told The News Service of Florida she was "shocked" by the vote, but declined further comment, saying her email blast --- with "Betrayal" in its subject line --- spoke for itself. The tie vote came after Democrats were able to attach a pair of amendments to the bill that stripped some enforcement powers from the proposal.

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As Florida Legislature takes up gun bills, a fact-check of Marion Hammer's claim about open carry

The former president of the National Rifle Association is defending bills in the Florida Legislature proposing the open carry of handguns, saying the vast majority of states already allow the practice.

Marion Hammer, currently executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida, responded to criticism of SB 300 and its companion in the House, HB 163. In a column posted on the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action website on Nov. 1, 2015, Hammer pointed out how many states allow open carry.

"Forty-five (45) states allow open carry of firearms," she wrote. "Varying restrictions on open carry in some states does not alter the fact that 45 states allow open carry."

Hammer was refuting Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is the Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Committee chairman. Gualtieri, whose group opposes the bills, previously told the Palm Beach Post it’s not really accurate to say those 45 states allow open carry because there are various rules and restrictions on the practice.

Joshua Gillin at PolitiFact Florida decided to get to the bottom of just how many states do let you carry guns openly in public. 

November 19, 2015

Guns-on-campus proposal heads to Florida House floor

Guns AP

@ByKristenMClark

A controversial plan, backed by the National Rifle Association, that would allow guns on college and university campuses statewide is ready for Florida's 120 House members to vote on when they begin their 2016 session in January.

The proposal (House Bill 4001) from Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, made swift progress through three House committees this fall and cleared its final hurdle on Thursday, despite passionate objections from the higher education community and campus law enforcement.

The House Judiciary Committee easily approved the bill by 13-5 vote. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee -- a co-sponsor of the bill -- joined Republicans in supporting it. The panel's five other Democrats were opposed.

"Time and time again, we’ve seen shootings in gun-free zones, and I don’t believe that should be policy in the state of Florida," Steube said of his bill.

But university and college presidents and administrators, campus police chiefs, faculty and other education groups vehemently oppose allowing guns on campus. They said again Thursday that guns don't have any place in an environment that should be dedicated to learning, and that allowing campus-carry could make emergency situations even more chaotic.

The Senate companion bill (SB 68) -- sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker -- also has gained favor this fall in two committees: criminal justice and higher education. It awaits a third and final hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it stalled last year.

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November 18, 2015

Open-carry gun bill narrowly passes second Florida House panel

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@ByKristenMClark

A plan endorsed by the National Rifle Association that would allow more than 1.4 million Floridians to openly carry firearms continues to garner support in the Republican-led Legislature, despite concerns from law enforcement groups and other critics about the absence of additional training or holstering requirements and other safeguards that they want included.

House Bill 163 -- sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- narrowly passed the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday by a 7-6 vote. Tampa Bay-area Republican Reps. Chris Latvala, of Clearwater, and Kathleen Peters, of South Pasadena, joined four Democrats in opposition.

Gaetz said the “urgency” in adopting the legislation is “to fully vindicate the Second Amendment and the rights that Floridians ought to enjoy.”

But Peters said the bill doesn't address concerns related to public safety and wouldn't expand any constitutional rights that Floridians don't already have. The proposal would let residents with concealed-weapons permits openly carry those weapons anywhere they’re legally allowed to carry concealed now.

"It doesn’t change who has the ability to bear arms," she said. "Our core responsibility is public safety, and are we truly allowing public safety when we allow someone to carry a gun when they’re walking down the street?"

Gaetz proposed several amendments to the bill -- which the committee approved -- in an effort to counter critics; the changes appeased some opponents, but not others. He said after the hearing that it's a "better bill" than before, but he admits there's more work to be done on it.

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Stand-your-ground changes advance in Senate, despite stalling in House

@ByKristenMClark

It's not done yet. A Senate committee today advanced NRA-backed legislation that would enhance Florida's "stand your ground" law, a day after a House committee effectively killed its version of the proposal.

Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, by a 5-1 vote, approved the bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. It would shift the burden of proof in a pretrial hearing to the prosecutor, who would have to prove why a defendant claiming self-defense isn't immune from prosecution.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, was the lone dissent on the committee. He panned the bill as "a massive expansion of 'stand your ground' with an unprecedented burden shift."

Committee Chairman Joe Negron -- a Stuart Republican who's poised to be the next Senate president -- spoke at length in favor of it, a rare moment of debate that he said he felt compelled to do because of the importance of the legislation.

"If the state of Florida is going to accuse a citizen of committing a crime, then the state of Florida has the burden of proving at each and every part of the proceeding, to prove guilt beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt," Negron said. "You don't have to prove anything as a defendant."

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November 17, 2015

Democrats successfully maneuver to kill 'Stand Your Ground' changes in Florida House

Baxley

@ByKristenMClark

A plan to strengthen Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law during the 2016 legislative session died an early death in the state House on Tuesday, after a subcommittee rejected the legislation on a deadlocked vote.

House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined with the panel’s four Democrats to oppose a bill by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, that would have given defendants who claim self-defense more protection from prosecution.

House Bill 169 would have required prosecutors to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- during a procedural hearing before trial -- why a defendant's self-defense claim isn't valid.

In contrast, Florida courts, culminating in a Florida Supreme Court ruling in July, had previously ruled that the defendant had the burden of proving why they shouldn't be prosecuted because they acted in self-defense.

Trujillo, a former assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade County, said he supports the way "Stand Your Ground" operates now, and the burden should remain on the defendant who claims self-defense.

"If you’re alleging something, you have to prove it," Trujillo said.

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, was absent for the vote, resulting in the 6-6 tie.

The surprise result was preceded by two late-filed amendments from Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, which he said he proposed as "an insurance policy" with the ultimate intent to kill the bill in committee. Both amendments passed by a 6-5 vote; Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, was absent for those, along with Latvala.

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