As the nation girds for marches this weekend led by kids demanding stricter gun regulations, the always-heated debate over firearms continued in the state Capitol.
Florida’s been an incubator for some of the country’s most-lenient gun laws, including the first-in-the-nation “stand your ground” statute that allows people to shoot, without having to retreat, if they feel their lives are in danger.
But since the Feb. 14 horrific mass shooting of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the “Gunshine State” has morphed into what many --- including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio --- hope will become a model for gun rules.
Rubio, who earned an “A+” rating from the National Rifle Association during his 2016 re-election campaign, is backing a ban on “bump stocks,” which make semi-automatic weapons mimic automatic firearms, a move that’s opposed by the gun-rights organization and which is part of a new school-safety law passed by the Legislature.
Rubio, a Republican, also supports a provision in Florida’s new law that allows law-enforcement officials to seek court orders to remove guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others. Rubio’s a sponsor of a congressional proposal that would go even further than the state law by allowing family members to seek “red-flag” protection orders from judges.
The NRA supports allowing law enforcement to seize firearms “from people with mental illness who pose a danger,” Marion Hammer, the organization’s powerful Florida lobbyist and former national president, told The News Service of Florida on Friday.
But, she said, “We do not believe that gratuitous seizures are the answer to the problem.”
It’s too soon to know how Florida’s law will work, Hammer said, “and only time will tell whether or not law enforcement will use it or abuse it.”
Hammer recently took aim at House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who called the new law --- which increases the minimum age from 18 to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period for the purchase of long guns --- “one of the greatest Second Amendment victories” in Florida’s history.
The acrimony over guns continued this week, with Corcoran telling the state Constitution Revision Commission to butt out of the issue.
But however ugly the gun debate may be in Florida, Tallahassee provided a reprieve from the contentious climate in the nation’s capital for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“It’s great to be here. A little better climate --- I’m talking about weather and politics --- than Washington, D.C.,” Sessions joked during an appearance before dozens of law enforcement officials Thursday. “It’s a rough bunch up there. I don’t even have a dog. At least you should have a dog in that forsaken place.”
CONSTITUTION PANEL HOLSTERS GUNS
Talk about gun regulations may be all the rage elsewhere, but the Florida Constitution Revision Commission wouldn’t allow debate on firearm-related measures this week.
A majority of the panel, sticking to its rules about deadlines, on Wednesday rejected attempts to introduce three measures that would have imposed stricter gun regulations.
Commissioner Roberto Martinez, a former federal prosecutor who said he owns three guns, tried to introduce a proposal that would put into the Constitution the same gun-related restrictions included in Florida’s new law.
He urged the commission to echo the actions of “the political leadership of this state” this year, saying Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature had “basically been unshackled to address this issue,” despite pressure from powerful special interests. The NRA filed a federal lawsuit shortly after Scott signed the new law and has targeted Republican legislators who supported the measure.
“What is the harm done, if we were to go forward, debate this issue and vote on it? I can’t see any harm,” Martinez, a Republican, said. “What is the benefit? The benefit is unlimited.”
But Attorney General Pam Bondi, a commission member, said the panel was obligated to obey its rules, which set an October deadline for new proposals. She rejected Martinez’s request that the rules be waived because the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland occurred months after the filing deadline.
“To say that the shooting came up recently, well, we had Pulse nightclub a year ago. You’ve all known that from day one. No one did anything on that,” Bondi said.
A majority of the 37-member commission agreed with Bondi and voted down Martinez’s motion.
Commissioner Hank Coxe, a Jacksonville lawyer, offered a proposal that included a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of guns. The proposal would have been attached to another measure that met the filing deadline.
But, as with Martinez’s proposal, the commission’s Rules and Administration Chairman Tim Cerio decided Coxe’s proposal wasn’t germane to the underlying measure, which dealt with property rights.
Coxe argued that the commission had signed off on numerous proposals that lawmakers refused to pass --- including a potential ban on greyhound racing and a victim’s rights measure known as “Marsy’s Law.”
“The legacy of the CRC is, as we stand here now given the germanity issue, that we worry about victim’s rights in Marsy’s Law, that we worry about the greyhounds, but, because of adherence to this rule, we do not worry about reducing the number of people murdered in the state of Florida,” Coxe said. “Forget germanity. Just waive the rules.”
But, again on a voice vote, a majority of the commission refused to waive the rules, and Coxe’s amendment failed.
WHO YOU GONNA BAN?
The commission, which meets every 20 years and has the authority to place constitutional changes directly on the ballot, moved forward this week with 25 proposals that could go before voters in November.
Voters won’t have a say on guns but could weigh in on schools, hospitals, vaping and offshore oil drilling.
School board members would be limited to eight years in office under a measure (Proposal 43) that moved forward Wednesday.
And Florida’s nearshore waters would be off-limits to future oil and gas drilling under a proposal advanced Tuesday. The measure (Proposal 91) seeks to prohibit oil and gas drilling within about three miles of the East Coast and nine miles of the Gulf of Mexico coast.
“These things (oil rigs) are not what we want along our shorelines,” said Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former mayor of Sewall’s Point who sponsored the proposal. “We want to protect our natural resources and our scenic beauty.”
The panel also moved forward with a plan (Proposal 65) to add vaping and electronic cigarettes to a ban on smoking in workplaces already included in the state Constitution.
And the commission advanced a proposal (Proposal 54) that would tie new hospital growth in the state to hospital-acquired infection rates at existing facilities, a measure targeting the state’s controversial “certificate of need” laws.
The proposals went to the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, which is looking at how to group the measures and write ballot summaries. The commission must take final votes by May 10 on which measures will go before voters in November.
JUST SAY NO
Sessions was in Tallahassee to announce the addition of more than 250 Drug Enforcement Administration agents at “opioid hot spots” throughout the country as part of President Donald Trump’s effort to combat the opioid epidemic responsible for 64,000 deaths nationwide in 2016.
Sessions was unapologetic about the Trump administration’s plan to seek the death penalty in drug-related cases, which has sparked pushback from Democrats and others who accuse the president of targeting minorities in a newly resurrected war on drugs.
“We will not hesitate to pursue maximum sentences allowed by law, and if appropriate, the death penalty. Our message should be clear. Business as usual is over,” Sessions said. “Plain and simple, drug traffickers show no respect for human dignity. They put their greed ahead of the safety and even the lives of others, knowing people will be dying as a result of their products.”
Also this week, Scott signed a sweeping package aimed at keeping patients from getting hooked on powerful prescription drugs and then turning to even deadlier street drugs like heroin and fentanyl. The $65 million package, nearly half of which comes from federal funds, includes a controversial provision that places limits on prescriptions that doctors can write for treatment of acute pain.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission advanced 25 measures for the November ballot, setting up final votes on the proposals before May 10.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “As one of the referee’s law professors might explain, dealing with Sacks was ‘like handling a rattlesnake wrapped in tissue paper.’ Unfortunately, respondent (Gilbert) was not up to the task.” Leonard Hanser, a referee for The Florida Bar, referring to Steven Sacks, who was hired by Hollywood lawyer Randolph Lawrence Gilbert after Sacks was released from federal prison for embezzling $7 million. Sacks later embezzled more than $4 million from Gilbert, who was disbarred Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court for failing to properly oversee his employee.
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