February 03, 2016

Bill addressing backyard gun ranges heads to Gov. Rick Scott

@ByKristenMClark

Perhaps the least controversial gun-related measure before the Legislature this session is on its way to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's desk for his signature.

SB 130 would make it a misdemeanor crime to fire a gun outdoors recreationally, including for target shooting, in a primarily residential area.

It's aimed at protecting public safety by prohibiting backyard gun ranges in densely populated areas. Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, said the bill was prompted by the growing prominence of such ranges, which he said are set up "sometimes in a haphazard fashion."

The Senate passed it unanimously last week, and the House did the same Wednesday evening.

16 Florida House members broke party-lines on open-carry amendment

@ByKristenMClark

Last night's debate over allowing concealed-weapons licensees to carry handguns openly went much as excepted, with questions-and-answers and votes on amendments generally falling along partylines.

But on the night's biggest vote -- an amendment to allow lawmakers to carry concealed in official meetings of the Florida Legislature (full details here) -- some Republicans and Democrats broke party lines, several from more moderate districts.

The 120-person chamber has 81 Republicans and 39 Democrats.

The 72-43 vote on the controversial amendment by Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, included support from five Democrats and opposition by 11 Republicans.

Continue reading "16 Florida House members broke party-lines on open-carry amendment" »

VIDEO: Florida House members react to debate over open carry

@ByKristenMClark

Florida House members were in session until nearly 10 p.m. Tuesday night, spending much of the evening debating two high-profile gun bills: open carry and campus carry.

The open-carry bill was amended with one significant change: To allow lawmakers to carry concealed handguns in legislative sessions and official meetings. It's one of the handful of areas specified in law where licensed gun-owners can't carry concealed.

Here's what Republican and Democratic leaders had to say about that amendment following last night's session, and read our full story here about the evening's debate.

Floor votes on both the campus-carry and open-carry measures are expected this afternoon in the House.

 

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Scott_cornhole

@ByKristenMClark

The governor plays cornhole at the Florida Capitol, lawmakers huddle for initial budget talks and controversial gun bills get a floor vote in the House. Here's what we're watching today:

* Proposed plans for the 2016-17 budget will go before the House's and Senate's full appropriations committees. Both chambers have scheduled daylong meetings to debate and revise their respective proposals, which were released Friday. (House Appropriations, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building. Senate Appropriations, 9 a.m. 412 Knott Buiding)

* Gov. Rick Scott is elevating his efforts to persuade the Legislature to support his call for a $1 billion tax cut and $250 million in business incentives. In a rare move, he's hosting a rally at the Florida Capitol, starting at 11 a.m. It will feature "leaders from around the state" and a specialty cornhole set branded with Scott's slogan of "1st For Jobs."

* The House Finance and Tax Committee, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, plans to formally unveil its "bipartisan" tax cut package -- and "much anticipated" hashtag -- during a press conference after the committee's meeting, set for 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

* More than 100 employees of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa plan to visit with House and Senate members to help draw support for a $3 billion gaming compact, which the Seminole tribe and the governor signed but which the Legislature is hesitant to back.

* The House convenes for session at 3. After heated debate yesterday evening, the chamber is expected to pass two controversial gun bills and consider a slew of other legislation on the table.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott's office

February 02, 2016

Under revised open-carry bill, Florida lawmakers could carry concealed guns in legislative meetings

Gaetz_1

@ByKristenMClark

Florida's 160 lawmakers could inconspicuously pack heat in the state House and Senate chambers and legislative meetings, under a provision tacked on to a controversial open-carry handguns proposal that's expected to pass the Florida House on Wednesday.

The amendment by Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, was one of almost two dozen proposed changes that representatives vetted -- and a handful they approved -- during three hours of debate that stretched past 9 p.m. Tuesday over two high-profile gun bills.

The measures alter how 1.4 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida can carry handguns.

The Republican-dominated House accepted Wood's idea by a 72-43 vote to allow lawmakers to carry concealed guns in legislative sessions and official meetings, but it's possible the change could prove fatal for the measure, which already faced a tough climb in the Senate.

Both the open-carry measure and another that would allow permit-holders to carry concealed on public university and college campuses are likely to pass the House. But across the Capitol, Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said he won't hear the campus-carry proposal in his committee for the second year in a row, and he indicated last week he could change his mind and not hear the open-carry plan, either.

The two measures are endorsed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, but opponents cite numerous safety concerns.

Heading into Tuesday's House debate, more than 40 amendments were filed to the open-carry bill but almost half were later withdrawn; those were mostly rebuttals that bill sponsor and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, initially sought.

All but one of the others -- Wood's -- were filed by Democrats, as an attempt to chip away at the proposal and add exclusions to where concealed-carry permit-holders could openly carry. Each Democratic amendment failed by wide margins with almost entirely Republican support.

Continue reading "Under revised open-carry bill, Florida lawmakers could carry concealed guns in legislative meetings" »

44 amendments filed to Florida House open-carry bill ahead of today's scheduled floor debate

0128opencarry1

@ByKristenMClark

The discourse over gun rights versus gun control will be on full display in the Florida House this afternoon.

The chamber's 120 representatives are set to debate a high-profile and controversial measure that would allow 1.4 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida openly carry their weapons statewide.

As of late Monday, 44 amendments -- including four that were subsequently withdrawn -- had been filed to HB 163,  a little more than half of them by Democrats seeking to shore up or chip away at what they described last week as flawed legislation.

They're unlikely to be successful in the Republican-majority chamber, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- the sponsor of the bill who says he wants to "vindicate" Floridians' Second Amendment rights by legalizing open carry -- filed 21 of the proposed changes, many of them substitute amendments that appear to counter the Democratic proposals.

Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, has brought back an amendment he attempted but later withdrew during last week's lengthy and heated hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. It would allow lawmakers to carry concealed in legislative sessions and official meetings.

Among the Democratic amendments, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, of Coral Springs, leads the pack with 16 proposed changes. Rep. Amanda Murphy of New Port Richey has proposed four others, and Rep. Joseph Geller of Aventura offered two.

Their proposals include:

Continue reading "44 amendments filed to Florida House open-carry bill ahead of today's scheduled floor debate" »

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Both the House and Senate are in session today, and they'll have plenty of old and familiar faces on hand as their special guests for the morning. Here's what we're watching:

* Current and former lawmakers will come together in each chamber, as part of a weeklong legislative reunion in Tallahassee. The House is set to honor former members during a special "reunion" session from 9:15-10 a.m., and then the Senate plans to do the same from 11 a.m. to noon, after an hour of regular floor work.
 
* The House convenes again for its regular session at 4 p.m. Daily business is set to include debate on sanctuary cities, revisions to the state's 10-20-Life law and two high-profile guns bills -- open carry and campus carry.
 
* The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will consider a proposal to address Florida's death penalty procedures in the wake of the Hurst v. Florida U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. A Senate panel held a similar hearing last week. Along that same vein, the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning on whether Hurst applies to the case of death-row inmate Michael Lambrix, who has been denied a stay for his execution set for Feb. 11.
 
* The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will debate two controversial ideas: Making both the commissioner of education and the secretary of state elected positions.
 
* A contingent of current and former NFL players will join Democratic lawmakers for a press conference urging the Legislature to sign off on a settlement deal reached in the wrongful death suit of Florida State University freshman linebacker Devaughn Darling. Darling collapsed and died in 2001 while participating in a series of intense conditioning drills at FSU.

February 01, 2016

Florida House proposal clarifies 'Pledge of Allegiance' policies in public schools

@ByKristenMClark

A reported overabundance of disclaimer notices in a Florida Panhandle county's public schools that alert students of their right to not participate in the "Pledge of Allegiance" has prompted bipartisan legislation that earned its first approval in a state House committee on Monday.

During its final meeting of the 2016 session, the House K-12 Subcommittee endorsed HB 1403 -- by Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze -- by a 10-0 vote.

Florida law requires the pledge to be recited at the start of every school day in every public school statewide, but students have the right to be excused under a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, so long as they have written permission from a parent.

Schools have to "post a notice in a conspicuous place" to let students know of their right to opt out. The legislation put forth by Broxson -- and co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, and Ed Narain, D-Tampa -- would change state law to, instead, require schools to publish the notice in student handbooks.

The bill also clarifies that students excused from reciting the pledge don't have to stand and place their hand over their heart.

Broxson told House members that where a notice is posted in schools became "a major issue" in Santa Rosa County near Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, areas with high populations of military families and an extra sensitivity to respecting the American flag.

He said the Santa Rosa County school district was prompted to require the mandatory notice "in every classroom where the flag appeared," after a parent complained at a school board meeting with a lawyer present.

"Today as we speak, right before you say the pledge, below that flag is a disclaimer saying you don't have to say the pledge," Broxson said.

"Some people believe we overreacted in Santa Rosa," he added. But under the legislative proposal, "if there's any concern about whether they could say the pledge, it would be dealt with in the handbook."

The House bill has two more committee stops, next before the education budget committee.

The Senate companion -- SB 1600 by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker -- has yet to receive an initial hearing before the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee.

January 29, 2016

Florida House plans to take up open-carry, campus-carry gun bills next week

@ByKristenMClark

The Florida House is making quick work of a proposal to allow people with concealed weapons permits to openly carry handguns in Florida.

The legislation cleared its final committee in a contentious hearing on Thursday, and the full chamber plans to debate it during the House's next session scheduled for Tuesday.

HB 163 is on the daily calendar, as is a similarly controversial bill that would let concealed weapons permit-holders carry concealed on the state's 40 public college and university campuses. 

Any floor vote on the guns-on-campus bill -- HB 4001 -- is likely to be mostly political, though, because the proposal has stalled in the Senate, all-but-killing its chances at becoming law this year.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said last week he won't schedule a hearing on it. Proponents are hoping to use some legislative maneuvering to get around his decision, but Senate leadership said that wouldn't be well-received.

The open carry bill, meanwhile, is likely to pass the Republican-dominated House, but could face similar jeopardy in the Senate. Diaz de la Portilla said earlier this month he was willing to have a hearing on it because of an amendment proposed by the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Democrats in the House tried to push that amendment Thursday but were shot down by a Republican majority. The change would have gutted the bill, stripping away the ability to openly carry and instead only shoring up protections for gun owners who accidentally display concealed weapons -- which the National Rifle Association said was its primary desire for the bill.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville -- sponsor of the Senate open carry bill -- said Thursday he won't support that amendment.

And it seems that Diaz de la Portilla could be reconsidering his decision to hear the bill at all. The Naples Daily News reported that Diaz de la Portilla might block the bill if it doesn't include the sheriffs association's amendment. Efforts to reach Diaz de la Portilla on Friday were unsuccessful, so the Herald/Times cannot independently confirm that report.

Also on the House's debate calendar Tuesday: Legislation that would make it a misdemeanor crime to fire a gun outdoors recreationally, including for target shooting, in a primarily residential area. It's aimed at prohibiting backyard gun ranges in densely populated areas.

Budget plans reveal Florida House, Senate far apart in school construction dollars

Doralcharter02wmm (1)

@ByKristenMClark

The state House is proposing to give Florida's 650 charter schools almost twice as much of the state's sought-after school construction dollars than traditional public schools next year.

But over in the Senate, members wants to give them zilch, while traditional public schools would still get $50 million.

At least on paper.

The figures come from each chamber's proposed budget bills, released today. But House and Senate education budget committee chairmen caution not to read too much into the proposed line-items.

It's still relatively early in the legislative budget process, and both Senate Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said this week that they hadn't finalized figures for fixed capital outlay dollars yet nor determined how much exactly should go to either traditional public schools or charter schools.

Fresen said in a text message today that the specifics will be hashed out later when House and Senate leaders eventually meet in conference committee to settle on the final state budget.

"Those are block numbers," he said, referring to the fixed capital outlay line-items. "It doesn't really mean much right now."

But the proposed figures offer insight into each chamber's priorities and potential bargaining chips going forward.

Continue reading "Budget plans reveal Florida House, Senate far apart in school construction dollars" »