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Gun legislation speeds to governor's desk as NRA runs out of targets

TALLAHASSEE — Adoption agencies can't require prospective parents to disclose whether they have a firearm, according to a new bill that rocketed out of the Legislature on Thursday and awaits the governor's signature.

Gov. Charlie Crist plans to approve the legislation, along with another National Rifle Association-backed bill (HB 651) that would stop legislators from raiding a special trust fund that pays for concealed-weapons permit regulation. The bill could be passed as early as next week.

Both bills attest to the might of the NRA. But the group has won so many victories that even supporters say the gun lobby is now left with little nips and tucks to the right to own firearms.

"The NRA is running out of targets," said Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat in the House, where the adoption measure passed unanimously Thursday. "These bills really don't do anything. They're innocuous."

The adoption bill (HB 315), for instance, fixes a problem that wasn't widespread and was the result of a mixup at the Children's Home Society in Central Florida, officials said. The society, a nonprofit adoption agency under the Department of Children and Families, was using an outdated form that happened to ask potential parents about gun ownership as well as pharmaceuticals and other personal questions.

After the NRA brought the matter to the attention of lawmakers, the DCF in December instructed all adoption agencies to refrain from asking about guns.

Only two lawmakers — both Democrats — voted against the bill Thursday in the Senate: Frederica Wilson of Miami and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.

The trust fund bill would prohibit lawmakers from raiding the special account derived from fees on licenses for concealed weapons, security officers and private investigators.

But today's legislators can't bind a future Legislature. So, in future years, the Legislature could bypass the restriction by writing special language into future budgets that would tap the fund, warned J.D. Alexander, the Senate's Republican budget chairman from Lake Wales.

He described the trust fund bill as "symbolic. It's a statement of our priorities."

But the NRA's Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, said the pieces of legislation are important to gun owners.

Hammer said an attempt by the Legislature last year to raid the gun-owner trust fund to balance the budget would have amounted to an unfair tax on gun owners. Crist vetoed the $6 million raid at the NRA's urging — even though his proposed budget that year called for an even bigger sweep of the fund, $8 million.

Hammer said the adoption issue involving the Children's Home Society was evidence that government-sanctioned groups — the adoption agencies — could be keeping a list of firearms owners, which is prohibited in Florida. Hammer got the gun-list prohibition written into law years ago, as well as a ban on law enforcement departments keeping databases of gun purchases at pawnshops.

The NRA is neutral on another bill (SB 98) called the Florida Firearms Freedom Act, which attempts to prohibit the federal government from regulating firearms made and sold in Florida. The measure's prime sponsor is Sen. Carey Baker, a Eustis Republican and gun-store owner.

Asked if there were any other gun-rights bills that could be passed, Baker smiled.

"I think we're almost out of them," said Baker, who is not running for re-election. "That's why I'm leaving the Legislature soon."

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@ miamiherald.com.

Gun legislation speeds to governor's desk as NRA runs out of targets 03/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 18, 2010 11:36pm]
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