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Sen. Smith releases ‘Stand Your Ground’ recommendations

Monday, April 30th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Requiring individuals to be in imminent danger before they can use deadly force, giving law enforcement officials the ability to arrest people who claim they killed or injured someone in self-defense and sending all “Stand Your Ground” cases to a grand jury would improve Florida’s self-defense laws, according to recommendations made by Sen. Chris Smith today.

Smith convened his own task force to look into the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in the wake of the national outcry over the death of Trayvon Martin two months ago. Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed 17-year-old in self-defense, focusing attention of Florida’s first-in-the-nation law and subsequent other states’ laws that allow individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

The Fort Lauderdale Democrat released a set of suggestions crafted by a panel of lawyers, judges and law professors the day before a task force set up by Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to hold its first meeting tomorrow.

Smith offered six unanimous recommendations and several others signed off on by a majority of the 18-member panel. Smith said he is giving the suggestions to Scott, his task force (headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, a National Rifle Association life member), and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

While most of the group wanted to repeal Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, Smith said the majority was not large enough to include doing away with the law in its recommendations.

Instead, he offered a suite of tweaks to ensure the safety of the state’s citizens, Smith, a lawyer, said.

“No reasonable person can say this is a perfect law,” Smith told reporters at a press conference this afternoon.

The other three recommendations are:
- Educate the public and law enforcement about the law and how to do use it. Smith said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement should provide a specific set of procedures to create uniformity in how the law is applied throughout hte state.

- Create a system to track self-defense claims in Florida.

- Change the name of the statute to “Use of Force in Defense of Property” instead of its current title “Use of Force in Defense of Others.”

Smith said lawmakers should convene a special session before the regular session begins in March to change the law.

Gov. Rick Scott appoints ‘Stand Your Ground’ task force, sets first meeting May 1

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The sponsor of Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law, state Rep. Dennis Baxley, is among the 17 members of Gov. Rick Scott’s “Citizen Safety and Protection” task force that will begin meeting May 1, Scott announced Thursday.

Palm Beach County Judge Krista Marx will also sit on the panel, scheduled to hold meetings around the state and which also includes four state lawmakers from the Sanford area, a retired Florida Supreme Court judge, attorneys and a neighborhood watch volunteer.

Scott announced the formation of the task force in the aftermath of the Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford. Sanford claimed he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense. The killing sparked a national outcry over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law that allows people to use deadly force when they feel threatened and provides immunity from prosecution.

“We are a nation and we are a state of laws. And I’m committing to letting our legal system work to ensure the people in our state are safe and protected,” Scott told reporters at a press conference this morning. “I’m a firm supporter of the Second Amendment. I also want to make sure that we do not rush to conclusions about the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law or any other laws in our state.”

Scott waited to get the task force up-and-running until special prosecutor Angela Corey, tapped by Scott to take over the investigation into Martin’s killing, arrested Zimmerman on second-degree murder charges earlier this month.

Task force chairwoman, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, a black former state House member who voted in favor of the 2005 law, and vice-chairman Rev. R. B. Holmes Jr., pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee joined Scott at a press conference this morning announcing the launch of the task force, which will hold its first meeting in Tallahassee. The panel is made up of “racially, regionally and professionally” diverse members from Pensacola to Miami, Carroll said.

“The brilliance of this is you have the governor’s office saying let’s look at this, versus hot air maybe elsewhere. This committee has the opportunity to listen to the public at large, take their testimony and say these are our suggestions,” Holmes said.

All of Florida’s “justifiable use of force” statute, which includes the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, will be included within the task force’s scope of work, Carroll said. No one representing the National Rifle Association, which pushed Florida’s law and helped spread it to more than two dozen other states, will be on the panel because no one from the organization applied, Carroll said.

The task force will take public testimony, gather data with the help of the University of Florida law school and make recommendations to the governor and legislative leaders before the legislature meets again in March, Carroll said.

Scott’s office has also set up a website for the panel – www.flgov.com/citizensafety – an e-mail account – citizensafety@eog.myflorida.com – and a Twitter handle – @FLCitizenSafety – where the public can review the task force’s work and provide input.

Although the task force’s main focus will be on the justifiable use of force section of Florida law, Chapter 776, the group may also look into some of the state’s many other gun laws, Scott said.

“This task force is going to take input from people about public safety. ‘Stand your ground’ is part of it. But thank goodness we live in a state where the crime rate is at a 40-year low. I want to keep it that way. We all want to keep it that way. If there’s laws that are impacting that, where people don’t feel comfortable, I want to know about it. We all want to know about it,” Scott said.

See the full list of Scott’s task force after the jump.
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ALEC quits gun policy, lefties want more

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 by Dara Kam

It isn’t enough that the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has backed down from Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law after spreading it around the country, some left-leaning groups say.

Now they want lawmakers to quit the group as well. Progress Florida has launched a statewide campaign urging its supporters to tell legislators to “disavow the group’s extremist and secretive influence on Florida law making.” Other national groups are urging state lawmakers and more businesses to do the same.

ALEC – the business-backed organization that provides prepackaged bills for lawmakers, many of which have been used by the GOP-dominated Florida legislature – yesterday announced it was discontinuing its “Public Safety” and “Elections” task forces that promoted controversial measures including “Stand Your Ground” and voter ID laws that critics say make it harder for minorities to cast their ballots.

The move came after at least 10 corporations refused to renew their memberships in ALEC, a decades-old organization relatively unknown until the Trayvon Martin shooting thrust ALEC into the national spotlight.

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense. Florida’s first-in-the-nation, 2005 law allows people to use deadly force when they feel threatened. ALEC pushed Florida’s NRA-backed bill, and about two dozen states have adopted similar laws.

Progress Florida as well as national groups, including Common Cause, complain that the corporations behind ALEC are crafting the model bills then sponsored by state lawmakers.

For example, state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, earlier this year sponsored a memorial urging Congress to cut the federal corporate tax rate.

But the proposal’s first “whereas” clause mistakenly revealed the source of the bill language.

“WHEREAS, it is the mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council to advance Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty,” Burgin’s memorial reads.

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Gov. Scott urges Floridians to ‘allow our justice system’ to work in Trayvon Martin case

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott is asking Floridians to “allow our justice system” to work in a statement that appears to be urging calm in the wake of an anticipated announcement of charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Special prosecutor Angela Corey is expected to announce this evening she is filing charges against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who claimed he shot the unarmed 17-year-old on Feb. 26 in self defense.

More than an hour before Corey’s announcement, expected at 6 p.m., Scott’s office issued the following statement, attributed to the governor:

“We are fortunate in our state that most Floridians and local civic leaders are law-abiding, responsible citizens who all want justice to prevail. No matter what State Attorney Corey determines following her investigation of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I trust in the goodness of all Florida citizens to allow our justice system to reach an appropriate conclusion in this case.”

Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham would not elaborate on the statement or why it was issued before Corey, appointed by Scott to investigate the high-profile case, made her announcement.

“The statement is self explanatory,” Graham said.

Civil rights activists from around the nation have held marches and rallies in Sanford and throughout the country in the aftermath of the Feb. 26 shooting in a gated community near Orlando.

The shooting has shined a spotlight “Stand Your Ground” laws like Florida’s – the country’s first – allowing individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened. And it has rippled throughout the nation with civil rights leaders and others demanding a closer look at racial profiling and possible differences in how prosecutors and law enforcement officials pursue charges against whites and blacks.

Scott has announced he will create a task force to look into Florida’s 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law after Corey’s investigation is complete.

Palm Beach County Commission sues state over ‘political bullying’ gun law

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Palm Beach County Commission has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Florida House and the Florida Senate today over a gun law that that went into effect on Oct. 1. Local officials who violate the law could be removed from office and face a $5,000 fine.

The sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect,” the lawsuit reads.

The commission’s lawsuit complains that the new law, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers because it gives the governor the ability to remove local officials from office and strips local officials of immunity from lawsuits.

Under current law, the governor is only allowed to suspend local officials and the Florida Senate has the power to remove them or reinstate them.

“Threatened removal of individual commissioners in a matter that is consistent with the terms of the Florida Constitution is political overreaching and political bullying that serves no legitimate governmental purpose,” Amy Taylor Petrick, an attorney for the county, wrote in the lawsuit filed in the Palm Beach County Circuit Court today.

The lawsuit asks the court to find that the law is unconstitutional, stop the governor from being able to remove local officials from office and order that they can’t be fined for breaking the law.

Negron said the penalties are necessary because city and county commissioners have ignored a law that gives the legislature the discretion to regulate gun laws.

After the law went into effect, municipalities, counties and state agencies were forced to scrap hundreds of measures dealing with firearms and could no longer bar people from being guns into government buildings, including the state Capitol.

“Political disputes should be resolved in the elected government arena rather than in courtrooms. So we’ll see where it goes from here,” said Negron, who had not seen the lawsuit Tuesday evening.

Negron, R-Stuart, said he does not intend to file a bill to repeal the law during the legislative session that begins next month.

“I would consider that just as I have to follow federal law and I have to follow county laws and city laws when I’m in their counties and cities, they should follow the preemption of the state law then nobody has anything to worry about,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

Spokeswomen for Bondi and House Speaker Dean Cannon said their lawyers are reviewing the lawsuit.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, who pushed the bill, called the lawsuit un-American.

“They’re using taxpayer dollars to try to keep from being punished for violating the law? That’s exactly the American way, is it?” she said.

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