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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Proposed Stand Your Ground changes ready for Florida Senate vote



A controversial plan to change Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is ready for the full 40-member Florida Senate to vote on when the 2017 session begins March 7.

The Rules Committee voted, 8-2, on Thursday to send the measure to the floor, despite renewed objections from prosecutors and gun-control advocates who argue the plan (SB 128) would “dangerously expand” Stand Your Ground and make gun crimes “harder to prosecute.”

The bill is endorsed, though, by public defenders and the powerful gun lobby, including Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Tallahassee lobbyist.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense — with no obligation to retreat or flee.

Currently, criminal defendants have to explain at a pre-trial hearing why they deserve immunity from prosecution under the Stand Your Ground law. The Florida Supreme Court held up this procedure in a 2015 ruling.

But the proposal by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would shift the burden of proof at that pre-trial hearing so that instead, the prosecutor would need to prove before trial “beyond a reasonable doubt” why a defendant couldn’t claim they lawfully stood their ground.

MORE: “Bill seeks to shift burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases”

Bradley says he wants to give “full meaning” to the self-defense rights Stand Your Ground was enacted to protect.

But critics passionately fear the consequences of putting such a high burden of proof on prosecutors before an actual trial.

“This bill will do substantial harm,” Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said, reiterating his opposition Thursday.

Thurston and Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, were the lone “no” votes in the Rules Committee. Tallahassee Democratic Sen. Bill Montford joined Republicans in voting in favor.

With that vote, the Stand Your Ground bill became the first piece of legislation from either chamber to clear all of its assigned committees and be sent to the floor for the 2017 session.

A companion House bill by freshmen Republican Reps. Bobby Payne of Palatka and Jason Fischer of Jacksonville has support from at least 30 Republican co-sponsors, but it hasn’t been heard yet.

Like the Senate bill, HB 245 was assigned to only two committees for review — bills usually get three hearings — but it’s unclear how soon the House bill might be taken up. Each chamber needs to pass an identical proposal in order for a measure to become law.

[Last modified: Friday, February 10, 2017 9:35am]


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