December 03, 2015

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


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


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


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



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


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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