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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

No decision yet whether gun bills will proceed in Florida Senate



The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he hasn't determined yet whether two controversial pieces of gun legislation will be heard before his panel during Florida's 2016 legislative session.

Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla holds the fate of the NRA-backed bills in his hands. One (HB 4001 / SB 68) would allow 1.4 million people with concealed-weapons permits in Florida to carry firearms on state college and university campuses. The other (HB 163 / SB 300) would let those same permit-holders openly carry wherever they're allowed to carry concealed now.

Both bills gained swift favor from Republicans during committee weeks in the run-up to the session, which began Tuesday. But in the Senate, they're both at a standstill until Diaz de la Portilla decides whether to schedule hearings.

"I'm reviewing both bills," he told reporters Tuesday. "We want to make sure we dot our I's and cross our T's before we make a decision on whether to agenda those or not."

The guns-on-campus bill stalled last year after Diaz de la Portilla didn't take it up. He said Tuesday that it's a "heavier lift" than the open-carry bill because of the opposition against it. While gun-rights groups want to allow campus-carry, the proposal has resounding objections from state and university presidents and campus police chiefs, as well as gun-control advocates and some teacher and student groups.

"It appears to be a bill that engenders a little bit more controversy," he said.

In contrast, Diaz de la Portilla said he finds the open-carry bill a little more palatable, because "open carry in some form or another is something that you have in many states in the country. And the fact that Florida had open carry before -- those two things make a bit of a difference."

Florida allowed residents to openly carry weapons before the state's concealed weapons laws were enacted only a few decades ago. Forty-five states allow some form of open-carry, with varying regulations. (More from Politifact)

Senate President Andy Gardiner told reporters last month that he is leaving the decision to hear the bills in Diaz de la Portilla's hands, as he's the chairman of the next committee of record. But Gardiner also indicated he didn't want Diaz de la Portilla to prolong his decision-making.

"I feel absolutely no pressure. I'm going to take my time to make the right decision on whether we agenda any of these bills or not, but I will be making a decision shortly," Diaz de la Portilla said.

In the Florida House, the campus-carry bill is ready for a floor vote, where it passed last year. That vote is expected in the early weeks of session. The open carry bill narrowly advanced through the committee process in November and has one more hearing before it reaches that chamber's floor.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2016 4:36pm]


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