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League of Women Voters hears about guns, Louboutins and elections

Thursday, April 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The League of Women Voters of Florida heard from both sides on the gun debate and elections and ethics reform during their annual gathering in the Capitol this morning.

National Rifle Association Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer addressed the crowd after Quincy Police Chief Walter McNeil, a former president of the International Police Chiefs Association who’s helped the White House craft a gun control policy.

It’s the first time Hammer’s been asked to appear before the League in her nearly four decades of lobbying.

She told the group, which backs stricter gun control measures, that semi-automatic weapons function the same as traditional guns but look fancier.

“It’s technology that’s been around for over 100 years and the only diffrerence is cosmetics. The cosmetics are new,” Hammer said. She said that a gun with the plastic stock replaced by a wooden stock would fire the same way.

“That’s no different than a lady in an elegant dress and nylon stockings and Christian Louboutin high-heeled shoes and expensive jewelry changing clothes into blue jeans, a sweatshirt, Nikes and a Timex watch. The only difference is the way she looks,” she said.

Hammer also said that Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law does not need to be changed. Gov. Rick Scott appointed a task force to look into the law in response to an outcry over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

“If criminals don’t want to get shot, they should leave people alone,” Hammer said.

Rep. Mark Pafford, celebrating his 47th birthday on Thursday, spoke about elections and health care.

NRA-backed bill closes loophole allowing mentally ill to buy guns

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers are trying to close a loophole that allows individuals who have been declared an imminent danger to themselves or others to purchase firearms.

The measure – the only one of a slew of proposals sponsored by Democrats that has the blessing of the National Rifle Association – addresses a “huge gap in the law,” Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman told the House Criminal Justice Committee this morning before its unanimous passage.

Under current Florida law, only mentally ill individuals who have been deemed an imminent danger and who have been involuntarily committed to treatment after being Baker Acted are added to a national database prohibiting them from purchasing guns.

But just a fraction – about one percent – of the 115,000 Baker Acts in Florida last year resulted in involuntary commitment. The other 99 percent of mentally ill individuals voluntarily submitted to treatment, meaning they could purchase guns as soon as they are out of the hospital.

“It makes no sense now that if you’ve been declared by two doctors that you are an imminent danger to yourself or others, why should you be able to go out and purchase a gun? If you’re suicidal, it’s an insanity. It’s just a horror waiting to happen,” Judge Leifman, who served as the Florida Supreme Court’s advisor on Criminal Justice and Mental Health.

Closing the loophole may prevent tragedies such as yesterday’s suicide at the University of Central Florida this week, Leifman said. Police say UCF dropout James Oliver Seevakumaran, who was found dead in his room, planned an attack before killing himself.

“These things don’t just happen. People have histories of depression. They have histories of mental illnesses. And when they get to the point where they’re imminently a danger to themselves or others, I think it behooves all of us to prohibit people at that point from purchasing the gun,” Leifman said.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said the bill was necessary.

“People with mental illnesses who are determined to be a danger to self or others are scamming the system. Many of them have been Baker Acted five, 10, 20 times. They never get into the system to prevent them from purchasing a firearm,” Hammer said.

Palm Beach County Democrats file universal background gun check bill

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Rep. Lori Berman, Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Bobby Powell

Acknowledging their proposal to close a “gun show loophole” is a long shot, two Democratic Palm Beach County lawmakers are hoping their identical bills will at least create a debate about the issue during the 2013 legislative session now underway.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, pitched their identical “Universal Background Check Act” bills (HB 1343, SB 1640) that would require background check every time a gun is sold.

“I am not so sold on the idea that this bill is going to pass. I’m being very candid with you,” Sachs told reporters after a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “But let’s have the discussion. Let’s bring everybody to the table and let’s have this discussion so that we have a gun policy in this state that’s reflective of the diversity of the state.”

Currently, a person buying a weapon in a gun store must pass law enforcement background checks, but persons buying arms at gun shows or privately from an owner do not, meaning they could be felons or otherwise prohibited from owning weapons.

Sachs and Berman, joined by county commissioners Mary Lou Berger, Paulette Burdick and Shelley Vana, former commissioner Burt Aaronson and state Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, said they both support Second Amendment rights.

But Berman cited figures from the Coalition to End Gun Violence that showed that background checks are only completed on about 60 percent of the gun sales in the country.

“The issue is that we need to stop the proliferation of people having guns and we need to make sure it’s all being done in a correct, proper and legal manner and that anybody who’s buying a gun has to do it through the proper channels. And that’s what this bill tries to address,” she said.

The bill would require anyone who wants to transfer or sell a gun to use a licensed gun dealer to conduct the transaction. The dealer would be responsible for the background check. If the buyer is ineligible to purchase the gun, the dealer would have to run a background check on the seller in order to return it.

If neither person passes the background requirements, the dealer would have to turn over the gun to the local sheriff within 24 hours.

“This is not a gun show loophole bill. It is a universal background check bill. And it is so brazen it even includes confiscation of firearms,” said National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former president of the national association.

But Vana, a former state representative, said the bill makes sense.

“This is a no-nonsense, non-radical method of trying to rein in the terror that has rained down on our citizens,” Vana said.

Hammer says federal law already makes it a felony to sell a gun to anyone a seller knows or reasonably should have known is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

The bill goes way beyond “fixing a perceived problem,” Hammer said.

“It’s not about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. It’s about making criminals out of law abiding people and taking their guns.”

NRA blasts Obama’s call for gun control

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 by Dara Kam

President Obama’s call for gun control will lead to “government confiscation of legal firearms,” and worse, according to the National Rifle Association.
The NRA posted a response to Obama’s State of the Union address on YouTube, citing Justice Department memos that said an assault weapons ban won’t work without mandatory buyback programs.

In the video, NRA Executive Director Chris Cox urges gun owners to call Congress and tell them to block the president’s gun control plan.
Cox also cites government documents that say universal background checks would work best with gun registration, something he calls a “unprecedented” breach of promise.
Obama received resounding applause last night during his speech as victims of gun violence looked on while the president repeatedly demanded that “they deserve a vote” on gun control.

Federal court schedules oral arguments in Florida “Docs and Glocks” case

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A federal appellate court in Atlanta has scheduled oral arguments late this spring in a case over a Florida law barring doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership,

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will hear oral arguments during the week of May 20, according to a lawyer representing a group of doctors that sued the state over the 2011 law.

A federal judge in Florida permanently blocked the National Rifle Association-backed law from going into effect last year, ruling that it unconstitutionally violates doctors right to freedom of speech.

Gov. Rick Scott appealed U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke’s ruling that rejected that state’s arguments that the law unfairly discriminates against gun owners.

President Obama recently issued an executive order clarifying that the federal health care law known as “Obamacare” does not prohibit doctors or health care providers from asking about guns.

Trayvon Martin’s mother, black lawmakers push repeal of Stand Your Ground

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Sybrina Fulton joined two Democratic state lawmakers pushing a repeal of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law invoked by George Zimmerman, neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Fulton’s 17-year-old unarmed son Trayvon Martin nearly one year ago.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, have filed a proposal (HB 4009) that would strip the 2005 law from the books. Martin’s shooting sparked a national outcry that focused a spotlight on Florida’s first-in-the-nation law allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened and provides immunity from prosecution.

“How many lives do we have to lose? How many children have to be killed? How many times are we going to bury our loved ones and not do anything about it? It is important that we do something about this law. As a parent I just don’t quite understand how someone can be a make-believe cop, pursue my son who had every right to be in that neighborhood, chase him, get in a confrontation with him, shoot and kill him and not be arrested,” Fulton said at a press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday. “Something has to be done. We have to put our collective minds together and we have to strategize and we have to make changes to this law. We need to get rid of this law. We need to do something seriously about this law. As a parent, I wouldn’t want you to stand I my shoes. Because it is hard. It’s difficult.”

Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the Feb. 26 shooting after Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor in the case. Trayvon Martin would have been 18 years old on Feb. 5, Williams noted.

Fulton’s lawyer Benjamin Crump called the law vague and confusing for law enforcement officials and should be repealed.

“Every Tom, Dick and Harry who kills somebody is saying I was standing my ground,” Crump said.

Scott appointed a task force to look into the law. Their recommendations include minor tweaks to the law but no major overhaul, and it is unlikely that the GOP-controlled legislature will take it off the books.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat who represents the district in which Fulton lives, blasted Scott’s task force for failing to appoint open critics of the law, including himself, and failing to hold a meeting in his district.

“Get rid of the law,” he said.

Bullard acknowledged that the NRA’s influence could make the repeal a difficult sell.

But, he said: “How many people have to die in order to make a change?”

Scott fires back over docs and guns, appeals ruling blocking law

Monday, July 30th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott, as expected, is appealing a judge’s ruling that permanently blocked a law barring doctors from asking patients about guns from going into effect.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke earlier this month issued a permanent injunction banning enforcement of the “Firearm Owner’s Privacy Act,” pushed by the National Rifle Association, ruling the law unconstitutionally violates physicians’ freedom of speech.

“This law was carefully crafted to respect the First Amendment while ensuring a patient’s constitutional right to own or possess a firearm without discrimination. I signed this legislation into law because I believe it is constitutional and I will continue to defend it,” Scott said in a statement announcing the state Department of Health was appealing.

The Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians sued Scott shortly after the he signed the act into law last year, arguing that what they called the “physician gag law” prevented doctors from doing their job.

Proponents of the measure said the law prevented discrimination against gun owners, some of whom had complained that doctors were using questions about firearms to discourage gun ownership.

Federal judge permanently blocks docs n’ guns law

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida doctors will be allowed to ask their patients about gun ownership after a federal judge on Friday ruled a law barring physicians from questioning patients about weapons in the home is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke blocked the law from going into effect last year after three groups of doctors sued Gov. Rick Scott over what they called the “doctor gag law.”

On Friday, Cooke ruled that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment freedom of speech rights.

“This law chills practitioners’ speech in a way that impairs the provision of medical care and may ultimately harm the patient,” Cooke wrote in her 25-page ruling>ruling.

Passed by lawmakers last year, Florida was the only state in the nation to impose the restriction on doctors, according to the National Rifle Association, which pushed the law. Some gun-owners complained that their doctors were using questions about firearms to discourage gun ownership. According to the lawsuit, one doctor refused to treat a patient who refused to answer questions about whether he owned a gun.

Cooke also said the law, which imposes penalties on doctors who “unnecessarily harass a patient about firearm ownership,” was too vague.

The “harassment provision does not provide fair notice as to what range of conduct it prohibits,” Cooke wrote.

Stage set for showdown over ‘Stand Your Ground’ as task force meets near Sanford

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

LONGWOOD _ Floridians will get their first face-to-face chance to sound off on the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law at the first public meeting of Gov. Rick Scott’s “Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force” today.

The task force has received more than 6,500 e-mails, many of them emotional, weighing in on whether the law should be changed. The National Rifle Association, which pushed Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law seven years ago, launched a campaign last week urging gun rights activists to contact the task force and let their feelings be known.

The four hours of public testimony in the afternoon sets the stage for a potential showdown. Opponents of the law – led by the parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed, black 17-year-old shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February – will hold a rally during the panel’s lunch break. Martin’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton will deliver more than 300,000 petition signatures asking that the law be changed.

Even the locale of the meeting, the first where the panel will take public testimony, is controversial.

It’s being held at a church in Longwood, not far from the Sanford gated community where Trayvon Martin was shot to death on a rainy night in February. Even some panelists privately complain about the meeting’s location, saying it contradicts the purpose of the panel. Scott said he does not want the task force to focus on the Martin/Zimmerman case, but instead to look at the law overall and see if it needs to be changed.

Scott resoundingly rejects Tampa mayor’s request to ban guns during GOP convention

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott firmly dismissed Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s request that firearms be temporarily banned during the GOP convention in August, saying in a strongly-worded letter that guns would make citizens safer, not pose a threat as Buckhorn suggested.

“We have had political conventions in this country since the dawn of the Republic,” Scott, a gun owner, wrote in a letter dated yesterday. “They are an essential means of furthering our constitutional rights to free speech and to vote. “Our fundamental right to keep and bear arms has coexisted with those freedoms for just as long, and I see no reason to depart from that tradition this year.”

Buckhorn had asked Scott to bar firearms in downtown Tampa, including temporarily restricting people with state-issued concealed carry permits from toting their guns near the convention site. City officials have decided to ban some weapons, including clubs and spears, but state law prohibits them from enacting any ordinances dealing with firearms.

“Normally, licensed firearms carried in accordance with the Florida statute requirements do not pose a significant threat to the public,” Buckhorn wrote in a letter to Scott. “However, in the potentially contentious environment surrounding the RNC, a firearm unnecessarily increases the threat of imminent harm and injury to the residents and visitors of the city.”

Scott, whose task force looking into the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law held its first meeting yesterday, strongly disagreed.

“Like you, I share the concern that ‘violent anti-government protests or other civil unrest’ can pose ‘dangers’ and the ‘threat of substantial injury or harm to Florida residents visitors to the state,’” Scott wrote. “But it is unclear how disarming citizens would better protect them from the dangers and threats posed by those who would
flout the law. It is at just such times that the constitutional right to self defense is most precious and must be protected from government overreach.”

Scott’s rejection of Buckhorn’s request is sure to resonate with Florida gun rights advocates who are up in arms over the governor’s “Citizen Safety and Protection” task force. The panel, headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, is examining the Florida “justifiable use of force” chapter of state law that allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened. The National Rifle Association released a statement yesterday saying it would fight to defend Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law and other similar statutes. And the Florida Carry Inc. organization is urging its members to show up at the meetings and contact the panelists to tell them the law should not be changed.

The now-controversial law is the focus of national attention in the aftermath of the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin. Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense. Special prosecutor Angela Correy, appointed by Scott, arrested Zimmerman on second degree murder charges six weeks after the shooting.

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 – – an e-mail account – – 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.

Capitol student-led Trayvon Martin protest: ‘Please don’t shoot me.’

Monday, March 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

FSU student Michael Sampson

About 100 students, many of them wearing hoodies in the 85-degree heat, marched to the Capitol from nearby Florida State University and Florida A & M University, joining protestors in Sanford and throughout the country to mark the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Chanting and holding signs including one that read “Please don’t shoot me. I only have Skittles and a drink,” the students’ enthusiasm grew as cars in the rush-hour traffic honked their approval.

Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who said he shot the youth in self defense, in a gated community last month. Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime.

The shooting has sparked a national furor with celebrities and sports stars joining in the demands for an arrest, and President Barack Obama saying that “If I had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon.” Martin’s parents joined in a rally in Sanford at 4 p.m. this afternoon.

FSU political science major Michael Sampson, 22, organized the Tallahassee event. Sampson called the failure of authorities to charge George Zimmerman with a crime “the last straw” for blacks and others.

“This case of Trayvon Martin, it’s the last straw for people of color,” Sampson, who is from Jacksonville, said. “We will not stop. We must keep going because we do not want to let another Trayvon Martin happen. Anyone one of us could be Trayvon Martin. I’m Trayvon Martin. I’m a young black male.”

Despite Gov. Rick Scott’s appointment of an independent prosecutor and his creation of a task force to look into the use of the state’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground” law, blacks and civil rights activists need to keep up the pressure, state Rep. Mia Jones, chairwoman of the legislative black caucus said.

The protests “keep the heat on and let everyone know that we’re paying attention,” Jones, D-Jacksonville, said.

Rep. Perry Thurston, one of the black lawyers who asked GOP leaders to look into the law and says it needs to be revised, said the Trayvon Martin shooting represents discrimination and racism that is pervasive throughout the nation.

“Trayvon Martin is the face of potential injustice all across the state,” Thurston, D-Plantation, said.

Palm Beach County Democrats back bills to bar guns from public buildings

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Trying to fix what they call a glitch in a state gun law that went into effect in October, two Delray Beach Democrats are pushing a measure that would make it illegal to bring firearms into child care centers and public buildings.

Sen. Maria Sachs and Rep. Lori Berman filed bills that would change a new law approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott that went into effect in October. The new law, which includes civil penalties and removal from office for local officials who ignore it, forced state agencies, municipalities and counties such as Palm Beach to scrap hundreds of measures dealing with guns.

After the law went into effect, state police were also forced to reverse their policy and allow firearms to be brought into the Capitol although weapons are still barred from legislative committee meetings. The same law applies to local government meetings – guns are permitted in the building but not where officials are publicly gathered.

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach

“The same rule should apply to the building where the meeting is taking place,” Berman said.

Under the new law, people are allowed to bring guns into child care centers but are still barred from bringing them into public schools or college and university campuses.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach

“If you’re not allowed to carry a gun into a school where children are five years old, I’m sure the law should extend to those who are four, or three or two,” Sachs, a former prosecutor, said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Palm Beach County Commission, which unanimously voted to support the bills (SB 1340, HB 1087), last month filed a lawsuit against Scott and others over the law, arguing that it is unconstitutional and that the sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect.”

Commissioner Shelley Vana, a former state representative, stood beside Berman and Sachs at a press conference announcing the proposals this morning.

She said their effort will make Floridians, especially children, safer and called it “another major step in rectifying a tremendous wrong and helping local governments keep their citizens safe.”

The measures are unlikely to gain traction in the GOP-dominated legislature, especially in an election year. The National Rifle Association pushed the new law last year.

But Sachs said the issue is one of public safety, not partisanship.

“I know Palm Beach is a pretty progressive county…but I know that every other county will follow us,” she said.

FMA will defend docs in complaints over gun questions

Thursday, August 11th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Medical Association will represent doctors in administrative complaints involving a new law that limits what health care providers can ask patients about gun ownership.

But the association’s House of Delegates also voted late last month not to join a lawsuit challenging whether the new law is a violation of doctors’ freedom of speech.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and several doctors’ groups, including the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practitioners and the American College of Physicians, filed the lawsuit in June against Gov. Rick Scott and his administration seeking an injunction against what they call the “Physician Gag Law,” already in effect. The groups, later joined by the Palm Beach County Medical Society and the ACLU, also want a federal judge to strike down the law as unconstitutional.

Under the law, doctors and other health care professionals will face sanctions including fines and losing their licenses if they ask patients about guns in the home without a direct belief that the inquiry is relevant to the patient’s safety or health. Pediatricians say the law keeps them from doing their jobs.

FMA general counsel Jeff Scott said the FMA’s House of Delegates rejected a proposal to join the lawsuit but later agreed to a substitute resolution calling for the FMA to help out doctors facing complaints related to the new law.

“We made kind of a policy statement that the doctor-patient relationship is important and to guide us going forward,” Scott said.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, who pushed the legislation passed this session, worked with the FMA and eased off sanctions in an early proposal that would have slapped doctors with up to $5,000 fines and prison time for probing into patients’ gun ownership. Florida is the first state to pass such a law, Hammer said.

Under the amendment approved by the delegates late in July, the FMA will “legally support, to the greatest degree possible, any FMA member subject to disciplinary action based on enforcement of the Florida gun law … if the affected physician was acting based on the medical necessity and safety of the patient or others.” The organization will also be required to “actively oppose an attempt to restrict physician questions to patients or require questions of patients.”

Scott said he doesn’t think the resolution will be an issue because he doesn’t anticipate doctors breaking the law or patient complaints.

“I don’t think this will come into play,” he said.

UPDATE: Physicians threaten lawsuit over ‘docs and Glocks’ bill

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill (HB 155) into law today.

Three groups of physicians are threatening to sue the state if Gov. Rick Scott signs into law a bill barring doctors from asking patients if they own a gun.

Lawyers representing members of the Florida chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians asked Scott to veto the measure (HB 155) because they say it restricts their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

“Healthcare professionals throughout the state of Florida routinely speak with patients about effective methods to minimize a variety of risks to their health and safety,” attorneys Bruce Manheim Jr. and Douglas Hallward-Driemeier of the Washington-based law firm Ropes & Gray wrote to Scott last week. Scott has until June 9 to act on the law.

Doctors advise patients about safety issues associated with swimming pools, dangerous chemicals, bike helmets and car seats, they wrote, and “provide anticipatory guidance regarding the significant health risks posed by firearms in the household.”

The bill would prohibit those talks and impose severe sanctions including fines and permanent revocation of licenses.

“In sum, if CS/CS/HB 155 becomes law, it will deprive healthcare professionals throughout the state of Florida of their rights under the First Amendment to freedom of speech. In violation of the U.S. Constitution, the law would also deprive patients of potentially life-saving information regarding safety measures they can take to protect their children, families and others from injury or death resulting from unsafe storage or handling of firearms,” the lawyers wrote. “For these reasons, we intend to file a lawsuit against you and other state officials in the event this legislation becomes law.”

The NRA sent out an action alert last week asking members to pressure Scott to sign the measure.

“Doctors need to treat illness, not guns. Pediatricians and other physicians, in growing numbers, are prying into our personal lives, invading our privacy and straying from issues relating to disease and medicine by questioning children or their parents about gun ownership,” the NRA’s Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former NRA president, urged in an e-mail on May 26.

Senate loosens gun laws – muzzles docs, okays ‘open carry’ lite

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 by Dara Kam

With NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer sitting in the front row of the public gallery, the Florida Senate easily approved three bills loosening gun laws, including a measure banning doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership.

Two other measures are now headed to Gov. Rick Scott, an NRA member and gun owner who has said he would sign them into law.

The “open carry” bill (HB 45), watered down yesterday, would protect concealed weapons permit owners from being prosecuted if their guns are accidentally exposed. Proponents of the measure say that current law could subject the inadvertent display of weapons to being charged with a felony.

The third (HB 155) would punish local officials with a fine for passing gun laws stricter than the state’s, already prohibited under state law.

Law enforcement officials opposed the open carry bill, saying it would make their jobs more dangerous.

And barring health care providers from asking safety questions about the presence of weapons in the household could endanger the lives of children and have a chilling effect on the doctor-patient relationship, pediatricians have argued.

Firearm injury is the leading cause of death for children and teens, said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston.

“Adolescents know about firearms. Children know about firearms and they know where they are. This Republican Party is a party of less government and this is the party that brings us more government intrusion that encroaches into the privacy of a doctor’s office and the doctor-patient relationship,” she said.

But Sen. Alan Hays, a retired dentist, said “it’s none of my business what kind of weapons if any” patients have in their homes.

“If it’s medically necessary you may inquire but otherwise stay out of the private business of your patient,” said Hays, R-Umatilla. The bill passed by a 27-10 vote.

Guns n’ docs compromise passes Senate committee

Monday, March 28th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Doctors would still be allowed to ask patients about guns under a compromise measure backed by the Florida Medical Association and the National Rifle Association.

The Senate Health Regulation Committee voted 8-4 to in favor of the measure (SB 432) that would allow health care providers to ask about gun ownership if they believe “this information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety.”

But opponents – including Sen. Mike Bennett, a Vietnam veteran – said the proposal doesn’t go far enough to protect the family members of the patients, especially in light of a growing number of veterans returning home from overseas wars with with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“If you’re a product of it, you understand,” Bennett, R-Bradenton, said. “I’m just concerned about the wife at home the kids at home because I’ve been there, done that. I’m worried about the vet coming home with PTSD, the increases in domestic violence.”

Crist okays ‘hands-off-my-gun-trust-fund’

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The money gun owners pay to the state to process their concealed weapons permit applications won’t be used for anything else no matter how bad Florida’s budget crisis gets, thanks to GOP lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist who signed the bill (SB 1158) into law today as promised.

The concealed weapons trust fund is now the fifth of the state’s 400-plus similar funds that are off limits to legislators who grabbed $500 million from them last year to fill a $2.3 billion budget gap. Like the concealed weapons trust fund, money for the trust funds comes from fees related to their specific purpose.

Of all the trust fund raids that the legislature attempted last year, the $6 million raid on the gun permit fund was the only one Crist singled out for a veto.

Stopping the gun permit fund raid was one of NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer‘s election-year priorities this session. The Senate passed out the measure on the second of session.

Some Democrats complained that the money from the trust fund should be available like others to help cover critical health and human service needs for Floridians.

Marion Hammer aims to kill driver handbook deal ‘black flag dead’

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The tussle between a gun shop-owning senator and the former president of the National Rifle Association is heating up over a controversial driver license handbook.

And the prospect looks bleaker every day for the vendor who prints the driver license handbook for free in return for the exclusive ability to advertise his “National Safety Commission” driver education courses.

First, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles chief Julie Jones canceled Ken Underwood’s controversial contract with the state effective at the end of the year.

Then an effort by a seemingly unwitting Sen. Carey Baker that would have given Underwood a leg up on a new contract went nowhere after a senate committee balked at the proposal, saying it appeared to be aimed at rescuing the sole source vendor.

Enter ultra-powerful NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer.


UPDATE: Senator’s attempt to rescue driver license handbook contractor goes nowhere, again

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. Carey Baker’s effort to rescue the vendor who has printed the state’s driver license handbook for five years went nowhere today and seems to be destined for the cutting room floor.

Baker had originally proposed a bill (SB 2342) that would keep Ken Underwood in the running for a contract with the Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety which he now prints for free in exchange for advertising his National Safety Commission driver’s ed schools.

Baker, R-Eustis, rewrote the bill to appease opponents, including Underwood’s competitors, but he asked the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee to skip a vote on it today, as he did last week, because it was clear the revisions didn’t pass critics’ muster.

DHSMV chief Julie Jones, who canceled the contract after the end of the year, told the committee that “We need to overcome the perception of an endorsement of one company.”


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