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Diaz de la Portilla: killing guns and immigration bills was 'common sense'

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, on Wednesday laid out his rationale for why he decided to kill several controversial gun and immigration bills by not scheduling them for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, and he warned he will kill the bills again next year if they return.

"Not agendaing those bad bills was really nothing more than common sense,'' Diaz de la Portilla told an audience of the League of Women Voters Wednesday evening. The group recognized Diaz de la Portilla as one of three lawmakers to receive the group's  annual "Making Democracy Work" award. Also receiving the award was Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Rep. Dave Kerner, D-West Palm Beach. 

Diaz de la Portilla is up for re-election in a newly-drawn District 37, thanks to the lawsuit brought by the League and a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters who challenged the Senate map drawn by Senate Republicans.

But he could face fierce competition from Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who has told the Herald/Times that he is considering running for the district after the court approved the map drawn by the League's consultant. The new District 37 is heavily Hispanic and leans Democratic with a higher percentage of registered Democrats than Diaz de la Portilla has in his current district. In 2012, the district voted for Barack Obama with 53.6 percent of the vote.

Diaz de la Portilla reminded the group, however, that his "common sense" approach to legislation has included voting against what he called the "union-busting bill" known as "paycheck protection" during his first term in 2011. "I was just a freshman senator but it just didn't make sense and would have not been fair to a lot of people in my community,'' he said. 

He spoke about how he opposed attempts to split the Supreme Court into civil and criminal divisions -- an effort led by former Republican House Speaker Dean Cannon with the support of many in his party -- and Diaz de la Portilla reminded the group he was the deciding vote to kill a bill to convert public schools into charter schools.

"I didn't agenda the campus carry bill last year either,'' he said to applause. "And if the bill is back again next year and I'm here and that bill is filed again, that bill won't be heard next year either." 

Diaz de la Portilla noted that the proponents of the bill to allow concealed carry permit holders to openly carry their guns "want to make it seem as if it's some kind of gun rights issue. It's not a gun rights issue,'' he said. "It's a public safety issue. It's bad public policy."

He said that with both the open carry and campus carry bills, he heard that "law enforcement is against it, university professors are against it, college presidents and the majority of students are against it. There is only one strong, special interest group that's for it. Only one,'' he said, a reference to the influential National Rifle Association.

"We in the Legislature are elected to make decisions that are common sense, to make decisions that are for the people of the State of Florida,'' he said. "So if there are just a few people in the State of Florida who are backing a special interest, they just want to help the manufacturers to keep themselves relevant. I will not agenda open carry next year if I'm here to make that decision."

He called the immigration-related bills "xenophobic" and said that "we've had that debate" and "the majority of the people don't think these are ideas that we should be spending our time on." He announced Wednesday that SB 872, which punishes so-called “sanctuary cities” that limit enforcement of federal immigration orders, will not get a hearing in his committee. The companion measure, HB 675, has passed the Florida House.

Diaz de la Portilla has had a mixed record on voting and redistricting. In 2011, he supported a bill that reduced the number of weeks for early voting from two to one, and in 2013, after long lines plagued South Florida polls in 2012, he filed legislation to reinstate early voting the Sunday before Election Day. 

In 2015, a redistricting map he sponsored and the Senate passed was rejected by House leaders because they believed it was drawn to benefit Diaz de la Portilla, or his brother's efforts to seek re-election. Diaz de la Portilla  said he was motivated to increase Hispanic voting strength and keep Little Havana whole. He also complained that the alternative map promoted by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would diminish Hispanic voting strength. 

Diaz de la Portilla's position against the gun bills made him a target of some critical editing on his Wikipedia page, according to a public radio editor who discovered the changes.

He told the League that he would "rather spend the committee's time on [bills related to] mental illness, and dealing with direct file of juveniles....dealing with quality of life issues that make sense for most people, not dealing with special interest issues."

"I think it's important as an elected official to look at each issue on the merits and use your common sense,'' he said. "What the people of Florida want is somebody who will make decisions on the merits."