November 18, 2015

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


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



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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November 16, 2015

Proposed changes to 'Stand Your Ground' law get hearings this week


A proposal that would give defendants more protection under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law will go before two legislative committees this week.

Some Republican lawmakers want to strengthen the law in response to a 5-2 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in July, which affirmed that the defendant bears the burden of proof in demonstrating that they acted in self-defense.

Some legislators believe the court erred in its finding and they want to make the law explicitly clear that it should actually be the prosecutor who should prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- before trial -- why a defendant's self-defense claim doesn't qualify for immunity protections.

House Bill 169, introduced by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, gets its first hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The Senate version gets its second vetting before that chamber's Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Florida's 10-year-old "Stand Your Ground" Law allows residents to use deadly force in defense of their lives in certain circumstances. A defendant's stand-your-ground claim is vetted during a pretrial evidentiary hearing, when they can seek to dismiss the case by citing self-defense immunity.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority in the July opinion, said requiring the defendant to prove their ability to qualify for such immunity is "principled, practical and supported by our precedent" for other motions of dismissal.

But Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island -- the Senate sponsor -- said last month that the court's ruling exhibited "classic overreach" that conservatives, such as him, find "objectionable."

Bradley said it is a "fundamental tenant" of the American judicial system that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and he said the circumstance should be no different for someone who asserts immunity from prosecution under the "Stand Your Ground" law. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced the bill by a 4-1 vote during that Oct. 20 hearing.

Criminal defense attorneys, public defenders, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups support the bill; while state prosecutors, victims rights advocates and the Florida League of Women Voters opposes it.

The legislation also would allow the defendant to recoup attorneys fees and other costs up to $200,000, if the court granted a defendant's motion to dismiss the case.

The proposed legislation would apply retroactively to pending cases, if enacted.

November 04, 2015

Guns-on-campus bill continues to move ahead in the Florida House

Greg steube


In its second of three committee stops in the House, a bill that would allow guns on Florida's college and university campuses garnered support again Wednesday, mostly along a party-line vote.

The House Higher Education & Workforce Subcommittee passed HB 4001, 10-3. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee -- a co-sponsor of the bill -- joined Republicans in supporting it.

The proposal -- introduced by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota -- would allow the 1.4 million Floridians with a concealed-weapons permit to carry their weapons and firearms on college and university campuses statewide.

The legislation continues to draw passionate testimony from both gun-rights supporters and gun-control advocates.

However, public comment and debate was limited Wednesday because of time, and most of the 70 people who attended didn't have time to comment. The committee spent an hour and 20 minutes holding a workshop on textbook affordability, leaving barely an hour to consider the campus-carry bill -- which Democrats on the committee took issue with.

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November 03, 2015

Former law enforcement officers-turned-Democratic lawmakers unite against open carry, campus-carry gun bills



Four Democratic lawmakers -- all former law enforcement officials -- say they intend to fight bills moving through the Florida Legislature that would allow concealed-weapons permit-holders in Florida to carry guns on college campuses and openly in public.

State Reps. Dave Kerner of Lake Worth, Victor Torres of Orlando, John Cortes of Kissimmee and Clovis Watson of Alachua said the "dangerous" legislation won't make Floridians safer and their opposition to the bills doesn't equate to an attack on the Second Amendment, as the bills' proponents have claimed.

"This is bad public policy and the fact that the state of Florida is legitimately considering these concepts is frightening to me," Kerner said. "What we are dealing with now are policies that go way beyond the simple bearing of arms."

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October 22, 2015

Florida police, sheriffs groups oppose open-carry gun proposals

Javier ortiz


Groups representing Florida sheriffs and police officers came out this week in opposition to a controversial legislative proposal that would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to openly carry their guns statewide.

Law enforcement representatives say Senate Bill 300 / House Bill 163 would restrict the ability of officers to ensure public safety and the bills fail to include enhanced training and requirements for the holstering and handling of openly carried weapons, among other concerns.

Supporters of the legislation -- sponsored by Republican father-son duo Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach -- argue it strengthens Second Amendment rights for Americans to defend themselves.

The Florida Fraternal Order of Police unanimously opposes the legislation, specifically because of a provision that would prohibit an officer from asking for someone's concealed-carry permit unless the officer had "probable cause" -- a more stringent legal standard than what is currently in law. If the officer made the request without probable cause, the officer could face a $5,000 fine and the agency they work for could be fined $100,000, under the proposed law.

"If something happens and an officer is not allowed to, at least, ask someone and inquire during the situation of a protest if they should be openly carrying, you’re tying their hands," Lisa Henning, the group's legislative liaison, told senators this week.

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October 20, 2015

Proposals allowing open carry, guns on campus advance


Two Florida Senate committees advanced controversial gun bills Tuesday that would make it easier for the 1.4 million Floridians with concealed-weapons permits to carry firearms openly in public and on college campuses and universities.

Both bills still have to be vetted by other committees before they could reach the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote. Companion bills are also being considered in the House.

A bill allowing concealed guns on Florida’s colleges and university campuses passed the Senate Higher Education Committee by a 5-3 vote, along party lines with the panel’s three Democrats opposed.

The proposal -- Senate Bill 68, sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker -- would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on college campuses.

Supporters of the “campus-carry” bill, including one woman who said she was a rape victim, argued that it would allow students, professors and staff to defend themselves against active shooters or sexual assault attacks.

“You certainly have my support to defend yourself the way you see fit,” Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, told the woman.

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October 19, 2015

VIDEO: Gun bills go before Senate committees on Tuesday


Two controversial gun bills being considered by the Republican-led Florida Legislature for the 2016 session will get another vetting on Tuesday before two Senate committees.

The guns-on-campus bill -- which would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on a college or university campus -- will be heard by the Senate Higher Education Committee. And a bill to allow conceal-carry permit-holders to carry openly goes before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Both hearings are at 9 a.m.

The guns-on-campus bill received favorable votes from both House and Senate criminal justice committees last month. This is the Senate's first crack at the open-carry legislation, which received a favorable vote two weeks ago in the House.

Expect passionate debate and some changes to each of the bills. Amendments have been filed for both committees to consider tomorrow.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, wants to let colleges and universities opt out of the guns-on-campus proposal, should they desire to. And for the open-carry bill, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, filed an amendment that fortifies the right of private property owners to dictate whether someone can pack heat on their property.

October 14, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott declines to weigh in on legislature's gun bills; legislative leaders expect them on session agenda


As the Florida Legislature considers several highly consequential gun bills this fall in the run-up to the 2016 session, Republican Gov. Rick Scott won't say how he feels about them.

Bills already being considered by legislative committees would allow the carrying of concealed weapons on college campuses and allow the open-carrying of firearms by those who have concealed weapons permits.

Another bill filed Tuesday by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would allow permit-holders to carry concealed weapons into public meetings -- including gatherings of local school boards, municipalities and the Florida Legislature. The bill also lifts the ban on concealed-carry in career centers.  Download HB 4031_AsFiled

The cumulative effect of the bills, should all three proposals clear the legislature and be signed into law, would be significant. Concealed-carry permit-holders would essentially be allowed to openly carry firearms anywhere from townhalls and the Florida Capitol to college campuses and those private businesses that allow customers to pack heat.

"I haven't seen all the proposals," Scott told reporters Tuesday during the Associated Press' annual legislative planning day. "I believe in the Second Amendment. If they pass those bills, I'll review those bills as they pass them."

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October 07, 2015

Florida Supreme Court will hear challenge to state's ban on openly carrying guns


The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Fort Pierce man's constitutional challenge to Florida's ban on openly carried weapons.

The agreement from the court came in a notice filed late Tuesday, the same day a House committee advanced a proposal to allow Floridians with concealed-carry permits to openly carry their weapons in public. Florida has prohibited open-carrying of firearms since the late 1980s.

Dale Lee Norman was arrested in 2012 while openly carrying a firearm; he had it in a holster in public view, according to court records. He was found guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor after a jury trial in St. Lucie County. On appeal, he challenged the constitutionality of Florida's law, citing the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision.

Supreme Court Justices gave Norman until Oct. 26 to file his brief with the court. Oral arguments haven't yet been scheduled.

Read the Supreme Court's order.