January 21, 2016

"Stand your ground" law changes inch toward full Senate vote

@ByKristenMClark

Senators debated on Thursday proposed changes to Florida's "stand your ground" law, clearing the way for a floor vote.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island -- the sponsor of SB 344 -- spent 20 minutes answering questions posed mostly by Democratic senators who probed the need for and implications of the bill.

Bradley's legislation would shift the burden of proof in a pre-trial hearing from defendants to prosecutors, requiring state attorneys to prove "by clear and convincing evidence" why a defendant could not claim "stand your ground" in self-defense cases.

He said the legislation is in reaction to a Florida Supreme Court last summer. Justices stated that defendants who claim a stand-your-ground defense have to prove before trial why they’re entitled to that immunity, but Bradley contends the justices "misinterpreted legislative intent" of the decade-old law.

"This bill brings full measure to what was done in 2005 and finishes the job and fairly and accuracy reflects what a true immunity hearing should be -- and that’s a hearing with the burden being on the state," Bradley said during Thursday's debate on the Senate floor.

Democratic Sen. Chris Smith, D- Fort Lauderdale, questioned the intent of the change, which has been described as a strengthening of the "stand your ground" law.

"This bill and this law is a way of avoiding trial," Smith said. "This is a way of not even going to a trial or going to a jury. This is a away of getting rid of it in front of a judge without a person’s peers looking at (it)."

Senators moved the bill to third reading, so it now needs to be scheduled on the calendar for a vote. It isn't slotted for the floor calendar for the next day of session, Jan. 28.

The House companion -- which required the demonstration of a higher burden of proof from prosecutors -- stalled in November in committee. Bradley said previously he wants his bill to pass out of the Senate and for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, to then take it up under messages directly on the House floor.

Diaz de la Portilla declares campus-carry bill dead for the session

DWS guns@MaryEllenKlas and @MichaelAuslen

The Senate chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed Thursday that the controversial bill, SB 68, to allow guns on college campuses will not get a hearing in the Senate, even though it is moving swiftly through the Florida House, effectively killed the measure for the session. 

"I don't think this is a Second Amendment issue,'' said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, whose committee hear all the gun bills. "I think what we're talking about here is campus safety and the best way to address that issue and whether the proposed cure is worse than the disease."

Diaz de la Portilla also refused to hear the campus carry bill last session. He said, however, that he will hear a separate gun bill, SB 300, that would allow concealed-carry license holders to openly display their guns in public and private spaces.

The announcement came on the same day of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fort Lauderdale, added her voice  to the Democrat's opposition to the array of pro-guns bills moving through the Florida Legislature.

Wasserman Schultz, who served in the Florida Legislature for 12 years, said that she's not only a constituent of the Legislature from Broward County but a mother.

"I'm here to sound the alarm to make sure that they wake up and understand that they should be listening to people,'' she said. As a mother of twins who are juniors in high school, she said, "it's really troubling and disturbing to me to think they could be on a college campus where another student may decide to solve a problem with a gun."

January 12, 2016

No decision yet whether gun bills will proceed in Florida Senate

 

@ByKristenMClark

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he hasn't determined yet whether two controversial pieces of gun legislation will be heard before his panel during Florida's 2016 legislative session.

Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla holds the fate of the NRA-backed bills in his hands. One (HB 4001 / SB 68) would allow 1.4 million people with concealed-weapons permits in Florida to carry firearms on state college and university campuses. The other (HB 163 / SB 300) would let those same permit-holders openly carry wherever they're allowed to carry concealed now.

Both bills gained swift favor from Republicans during committee weeks in the run-up to the session, which began Tuesday. But in the Senate, they're both at a standstill until Diaz de la Portilla decides whether to schedule hearings.

"I'm reviewing both bills," he told reporters Tuesday. "We want to make sure we dot our I's and cross our T's before we make a decision on whether to agenda those or not."

Continue reading "No decision yet whether gun bills will proceed in Florida Senate" »

Video(s): What to watch for in Florida's 2016 legislative session

From tax cuts and health care to gambling and guns, here are six key issues and themes to watch for as the 2016 Florida legislative session gets underway today.

Continue reading "Video(s): What to watch for in Florida's 2016 legislative session" »

January 11, 2016

Video: Previewing gun proposals for the 2016 legislative session

@ByKristenMClark

There's been buzz for several weeks about controversial proposals that Republican lawmakers are considering in the hopes of expanding gun owners' rights in Florida. Now that the 2016 legislative session is beginning this week, we'll find out just how far these proposals will go and if they truly have a chance to become law.

One of the proposals -- to allow concealed-weapons permit-holders to carry guns on public college and university campuses -- made headway last year but died when that session ended abruptly.

But the committee weeks last fall gave lawmakers plenty of time to revive that plan for 2016 and begin work on others -- including one that would allow concealed-weapons licensees to openly carry firearms in Florida and another that relaxes Florida's stand-your-ground law by shifting the burden of proof in court.

None of the bills is a walk in the park.

The stand-your-ground bill needs some political maneuvering in order to pass both chambers, and heading into the session, the open-carry and campus-carry bills are at a standstill, although they're likely to clear the House. Both await further hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Miami Republican Miguel Diaz de la Portilla has so far been mum on whether they'll be heard. If he doesn't take them up, the bills have minimal, if any, chance at being enacted.

The other factor to consider: 2016 is an election year, and politicians often don't want controversial votes on their record if they're in competitive races. With that reality in mind, legislators might be more hesitant to consider bills like these.

January 06, 2016

No regrets from Jeb Bush on Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law

@PatriciaMazzei

A New Hampshire voter interrupted Jeb Bush at a campaign event Tuesday, bringing up the 2012 shooting death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin.

The former Florida governor had touted his pro-gun rights record. "To this day we continue to see a dramatic reduction in gun violence," he said in the town of Derry.

"Trayvon Martin would disagree," a woman interjected.

"Well, the facts are the facts," Bush replied.

In a follow-up interview, Jim DeFede of Miami Herald news parter WFOR-CBS 4 asked Bush if he regretted any aspects of the controversial "Stand Your Ground" legislation enacted while he was in office. (A jury acquitted Trayvon shooter George Zimmerman in 2013.)

"I don't, no," Bush said. "I think it's a part of a suite of laws that were passed that have reduced gun violence."

"Do you think justice was served in the Trayvon Martin case?" DeFede asked.

"Look, I wasn't on the jury," Bush said. "I trust the judicial system in Florida and our country. My heart goes out to his family."

January 05, 2016

Florida official predicts surge in concealed weapons permits because of Obama executive action

@JeremySWallace

A key Florida official is blasting President Barack Obama for his latest executive action on guns, saying it is only going to result in a dramatic increase in the number of Floridians who will want a concealed weapons permit.

“Due to this overreaching executive action, we anticipate a surge in the number of applications for concealed weapon licenses in Florida, and we are preparing to meet this increased demand,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose office handles concealed weapons permits.

Florida has 1.4 million concealed weapons licenses currently.

“Our right to bear arms is enshrined in our U.S. Constitution, yet President Obama has again circumvented Congress with this executive action, infringing on law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights,” said Putnam, a Republican who served in Congress for 10 years before being elected the state’s Agriculture Commissioner in 2010.

At the centerpiece of Obama's plan is a more sweeping definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the number of sales subject to background checks. Under current law, only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks on buyers. But at gun shows, websites and flea markets, sellers often skirt that requirement by declining to register as licensed dealers.

Aiming to narrow that loophole, the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is issuing updated guidance that says the government should deem anyone "in the business" of selling guns to be a dealer, regardless of where he or she sells the guns. To that end, the government will consider other factors, including how many guns a person sells, how frequently, and whether those guns are sold for a profit.

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.

Continue reading "Florida state colleges want $74M to improve campus security" »

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.

Continue reading "Florida Senate could consider stand-your-ground changes in January" »