The tragedy of two mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, over the weekend has reignited a national debate on gun control and the solutions to ending gun violence.
In Florida, where two deadly mass shootings happened at a high school in Parkland and a nightclub in Orlando, state lawmakers are once again exploring the issue.
The response comes more than a year after the Republican-controlled Legislature responded to the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a sweeping law that included stricter gun-control measures. The law raised the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns from 18 to 21 and imposed a three-day waiting period for buying the weapons.
It remains to be seen what is in store for the upcoming 2020 legislative session, but Senate President Bill Galvano has directed a panel to look into factors that contribute to mass shootings.
House Speaker Jose Oliva, however, says the question is not about “what to do,” but rather about “who we are” are a society.
After the Ohio and Texas shootings that left more than 30 people dead, Galvano tapped Senate Infrastructure and Security Chairman Tom Lee to head a probe into what Florida can do to combat mass violence and white nationalism.
Passing new laws in response to the tragedies, however, may prove to be a challenge during the 2020 session.
Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, released a statement in which he said, “Racism, including white nationalism, is a vile, disgusting, un-American ideology.”
“We cannot lose sight, however, that those who subscribe to those beliefs are few and their ideas so rejected that their words and actions unify all Americans --- left and right, black, white or brown --- in abhorrence and condemnation,” Oliva said.
Oliva noted that as a Hispanic American, he’s seen more generosity and inclusiveness than discrimination and hatred.
When asked about Galvano’s Senate directive, Oliva spokesman Fred Piccolo said the House leader stood by his statement.
“He believes the solution to hatred, violence, and intolerance largely rests outside of politics,” Piccolo said.
Democrats in Florida and the nation have accused President Donald Trump of stoking anti-immigration sentiment echoed by the alleged El Paso shooter.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close ally of the president, said it isn’t productive to place the blame on Trump or anyone else, unless they told a killer, “Hey, go do this.”
“I have no interest in being part of people’s political narratives. I understand the narratives. I’ve seen it for years and years,” DeSantis told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m trying to focus on solutions, and that’s why we’ve been forward-looking on our threat assessment strategy.”
TREATMENT OF EPSTEIN UNDER SCRUTINY
The high-profile case of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein continued to draw more scrutiny in Florida this week, after DeSantis ordered an investigation into how the state and the Palm Beach County sheriff handled the wealthy financier more than a decade ago.
DeSantis called for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement probe a month after Epstein was arrested in New York on sex trafficking charges involving dozens of minor girls in New York and Florida.
While Epstein sits in jail without bail in New York, Florida investigators have begun looking into a 2008 plea deal related to state prostitution charges, and the treatment Epstein received from Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
Attorney General Ashley Moody this week publicly questioned why Epstein was allowed to spend up to 12 hours a day, six days a week at his West Palm Beach office as part of a work-release program. Bradshaw opened an internal affairs inquiry into the matter last month, but he asked DeSantis to order the state probe, saying that the public interest would be better served by a state investigation “from court sentencing to incarceration.”
After DeSantis told the FDLE to investigate, Moody questioned why Epstein was allowed to participate in the work-release program.
“I can tell you, at this point, we have not found anything within the judgment and sentence and we have not been able to locate any administrative order --- nothing in the transcript --- that would indicate that the judge was aware of ordered work release in this particular case,” Moody told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.
But Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman with the sheriff’s office, said that no court order was needed for Epstein to participate in the program. Because he met the eligibility requirements, Epstein had to be treated like any other inmate, Barbera said.
Moody, however, said that figuring out who authorized Epstein’s participation in the work-release program will “absolutely” be a focus of the state probe.
When ordering the FDLE inquiry on Tuesday, DeSantis pointed to “irregularities” in Epstein’s case. The governor reiterated those concerns when speaking to reporters on Wednesday, adding that “a lot of people” had questioned whether Bradshaw should investigate his own agency.
“I think most people look at how that thing was disposed of and they are not happy with how that worked out,” DeSantis said.
Later Wednesday, DeSantis said the FDLE inquiry is intended to “hold as many people accountable as we can.”
TACKLING CORRUPTION IN TALLAHASSEE
After the former head of the Florida Democratic Party reached a plea deal in a “play-to-play” bribery probe, a federal prosecutor vowed to continue to root out government corruption and election security threats in the northern part of Florida.
U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe said he has created a public-trust unit in his office, which oversees a 23-county region in North Florida, following the high-profile prosecution of suspended Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox. Maddox, a former Democratic Party chairman and candidate for statewide offices, and Paige Carter-Smith, his longtime aide and onetime business partner, this week pleaded guilty to three fraud charges.
The multi-year investigation into Maddox’s crimes factored into last year’s gubernatorial race between former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and DeSantis, the eventual winner. Gillum, a Democrat, has not been charged with any crimes in the federal probe, but earlier this year he agreed to pay $5,000 to settle a state ethics commission investigation.
Keefe would not elaborate on whether he expects more indictments as part of the investigation, but court documents filed by prosecutors on Friday referenced “multiple investigations” that resulted in hundreds of hours of recordings, including wiretapped telephone calls, and tens of thousands of pages of documents, including bank transactions.
“We would not be establishing this public trust unit, and doing all of the things I am telling you about today, if we were not pursuing all sorts of leads in all sorts of places that I simply can’t share with you,” Keefe said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a state investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's 2008 plea agreement on state prostitution charges and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's office handling of the wealthy financier.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “What are the alternatives? A shot of whiskey and a leather belt to bite down on?” Florida Board of Medicine lawyer Ed Tellechea, during a discussion about a new law requiring doctors to inform patients of alternatives to opioids before administering anesthesia or prescribing or administering opioids.