UPDATE: The bill was postponed. But Steube said after the meeting that one of the three Cabinet members — either Bondi, Atwater or Putnam — asked for the carve-out in state law. He won’t say which, but each told the Herald/Times they had no involvement in the proposal. More here.
Among many gun bills Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube has filed for the 2017 session, one proposal being considered for the first time Tuesday calls for letting the three members of the Florida Cabinet carry guns virtually anywhere -- so long as they have a concealed weapons permit and federal law doesn't prohibit guns in that location.
Each of the Cabinet members -- Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam -- said they were unaware until contacted by the Herald/Times this week that Steube had proposed exempting them from the state's "gun-free zones."
But only one Cabinet member -- Atwater -- would say whether they themselves might be affected by the potential law change.
A spokeswoman for Atwater confirmed he has a concealed weapons permit, but also said Atwater did not seek out the provision. (Atwater announced last month he'll resign after the end of session in May to take a job at Florida Atlantic University. Steube's bill, if enacted, wouldn't take effect until July 1, so Atwater wouldn't be able to take advantage of the exemption anyway.)
Allowing permitted Cabinet members to carry guns anywhere not prohibited by federal law would let them carry concealed in more than a dozen places concealed weapons are currently banned -- so-called "gun-free zones" such as public schools, police stations, airport passenger terminals, polling places, government and legislative meetings, athletic events and bars.
For his part, Putnam told the Herald/Times: "I don't discuss whether I do or I don't" have a concealed-weapons permit. Putnam's office oversees the issuance of concealed-weapons permits; more than 1.7 million people are permitted in Florida, the most of any state.
And in declining to answer whether Bondi has a permit, her office cited the public records exemption in state law that makes the identifying information of permit-holders confidential. That provision does not preclude Bondi from saying whether she has a permit herself.
Steube's bill in question (SB 646) is on the agenda to be heard this afternoon before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Steube chairs.
As filed, it would affect any "member of the Florida Cabinet" who is permitted "and who does not have full-time security provided by the Department of Law Enforcement." FDLE provides full-time security only for the governor, not the Cabinet or lieutenant governor.
However, Steube this afternoon filed an amendment that vastly broadens what he's seeking to do with that provision.
The amendment, if adopted, would afford the exemption to any "elected constitutional officer identified in Article III or Article IV of the state Constitution" who is permitted and doesn't have full-time FDLE security. That would include not only the Cabinet, but also the lieutenant governor and all 160 members of the Florida Legislature, if they have concealed-weapons permits. (The governor is also included in Article IV of the Constitution, but since he has full-time FDLE security, the proposed law wouldn't affect him, regardless of whether he has a permit.)
Meanwhile, SB 646 as filed also seeks to drastically reduce penalties for open-carrying a firearm and for carrying concealed in "gun-free zones" -- reducing both crimes from a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail to non-criminal offenses that carry a $25 fine. It also clarifies Florida law in a manner the NRA has been advocating for for some time, by explicitly protecting from arrest any concealed-weapons permit-holders who briefly display their concealed firearm.
Photo credit: From left: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi sit with Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera and Gov. Rick Scott during the opening day of the 2017 legislative session on Tuesday, March 7. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times