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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Proposed reforms to Florida's 'stand your ground' law revived with House referral

17

February

Potential changes to the state's "stand your ground" law were resuscitated in the Florida House this past week, despite the original measure stalling in a subcommittee last fall.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, referred the Senate-approved bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which gives the chamber a second chance at considering the policy this session.

"It's a fair discussion to have," Crisafulli told reporters after Wednesday's session. "If they pass it, they pass it. If they don't, they don't."

Jacksonville Republican Rep. Charles McBurney, the House judiciary chairman, has the prerogative to hear the bill -- SB 344, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.

McBurney told the Herald/Times Wednesday evening that "no decision has been made" on which bills might be taken up after the committee's hearing Thursday morning.

Bradley's bill is not on that agenda. The committee has at least one more hearing scheduled (for next week), but McBurney said the agenda hasn't been set.

Judiciary is the only committee Bradley's bill was referred to in the House, so if it's heard and passes, the bill would go straight to the House floor for a final vote.

House Democrats are annoyed that the "stand your ground" reforms are back in play, because their success at killing the House bill -- by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala -- was a rare victory for them in the Republican-led Legislature. It was also an unusual defeat for a priority of the National Rifle Association.

"When I learned of it, I went to the chairman of judiciary, and I said, 'Even when I win, I lose,' " said Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, who led the opposition that led to a deadlocked vote on Baxley's bill.

Because it failed to advance out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, the House members on that panel effectively killed Baxley's version.

"It's now back from the Senate. I think there's some procedural pitfalls in doing that," Kerner said. "We have a process and the bill died by a bipartisan vote, and the fact that it's back is very unfortunate and we're working to kill it again."

In order for proposals to become law, identical bills have to pass out of the House and Senate. Traditionally, in the Florida Legislature, separate bills are filed and advanced separately through each chamber.

After Baxley's bill died, Bradley's version continued progressing through legislative committees in the Senate, and senators passed it by a 24-12 vote in late January.

Crisafulli noted that the House judiciary panel was among the committees that Baxley's bill "would have gone to, had it not died over here."

Both bills shift the burden of proof in self-defense cases, requiring prosecutors to prove why a defendant could not claim the state's "stand your ground" law as a defense for their actions. The law, adopted in 2005, allows residents to use deadly force in defense of their lives or property in certain circumstances, with no obligation to retreat or flee.

Republican lawmakers offered bills this session in response to a Florida Supreme Court ruling last summer that stated defendants who claim a stand-your-ground defense have to prove before trial why they’re entitled to that immunity. Bradley contended the justices “misinterpreted legislative intent” of the decade-old law.

Bradley's bill was amended in the Senate, so prosecutors would be subject to a lesser burden of proof than what the original bills proposed.

Prior to the Senate vote, Democrats in that chamber railed against Bradley's bill, arguing it would “stack the deck against justice for the dead,” especially for victims who are minorities.

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 17, 2016 7:23pm]

    

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