Frustrated by Gov. Rick Scott’s delay in assembling a task force to look into Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has put together a panel that will meet Thursday to look into the first-in-the-nation law.
The Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin has intensified scrutiny of Florida’s first-in-the nation law, which allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened. Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed 17-year-old in self-defense.
Smith, a critic of the law since it was proposed in 2005 and who voted against it while in the Florida House, said the nation’s attention on the law prompted by Martin’s death has the potential to have a devastating impact on the Sunshine State’s upcoming tourist season.
“Florida is in crisis mode. We have a big problem and it’s time for leaders to lead,” Smith, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, told reporters at a press conference this morning.
The panel, dominated by Democrats, includes prosecutors and public defenders from South Florida, including Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout, law professors and lawyers. Area judges and Nikki Grossman, head of the Fort Lauderdale tourism bureau, will appear before the group Thursday afternoon.
Smith said he wants to make recommendations for possible changes to the law to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and wants a special session to address the law.
Under pressure from black lawyers and public outrage over Martin’s shooting, Scott last month announced he was convening a task force after a special prosecutor he appointed to investigate the shooting completes her work. Haridopolos and Cannon have said they support the task force and want to wait for its recommendations before considering a special session. Smith twice asked Scott to speed up the task force but Scott insisted he wants to wait until the Martin investigation is finished.
But that could take more than a year, Smith complained. Smith, a black lawyer who has discussed the law on national news programs since the Feb. 26 shooting, said vacationers are expressing fears about coming to Florida because of the law.
“We will not sit around and wait for action,” Smith said. “The Florida brand is being portrayed in a negative light each and every day.”
Smith has also launched a web site – FloridaStandYourGround.org – and is eliciting public comments.
Smith’s group will take public testimony from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Fort Lauderdale library main branch and meet later that evening to decide what their next step should be, he said.