TALLAHASSEE — It's not often that a bill backed by the National Rifle Association dies in the Florida Legislature.
But that's what happened Thursday, thanks to the lobbying force of the Florida Sheriff's Association and the legislative acumen of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who for the second straight day helped kill a controversial bill.
SB 296 would have allowed those "in lawful possession" of guns to conceal weapons without a permit during mandatory evacuations and local emergencies, such as riots. That's not the same as a gun owner, and could apply to adult children or spouses of gun owners with clean criminal records who are found carrying guns.
The bill, which passed the House last month 80-36, was called "insane" by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. He worked with Latvala on an amendment that would limit the exemption for concealed weapons permits to 24 hours. It also removed the exemption once the carrier of the weapon reached a destination upon evacuation.
"It just provides a reasonable limit," Latvala said.
The amendment was adopted on a 23-15 board vote, with the support of Tampa Bay Sens. Latvala, John Legg, R-Trinity, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and the sponsor of the bill, Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, voted against the amendment.
Afterward, Brandes pulled the bill and said he isn't going to bring it back this session.
"(The amendment) makes it a felony if you're a minute late after the evacuation," Brandes said. "It makes the bill anti-Second Amendment. It defeats the whole purpose."
Gualtieri said he was surprised that Brandes felt that way. He said he worked with Latvala to make sure the amendment brought clarity so that law enforcement knew how to enforce the legislation. Without specifics provided by the amendment, the bill was too vague, he said.
"It put understandable terms to the bill," Gualtieri said. "I really don't get why he feels that way. Why would he want the law to be ambiguous?"
Drawing attention to the bill's survivalist, every-man-for-himself ethos, Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, filed an amendment that would include among the emergencies where permits weren't needed to carry guns — a zombie apocalypse. Brandes pulled the bill before the amendment was heard.
Gualtieri said he's ready for the NRA backlash. He said members have been sending strongly worded emails to lawmakers in the past few days urging passage of the bill.
"There was a lot of pushing on this," he said. "If they're going to come after me now, so be it. Get in line, I guess."
Latvala used a series of legislative maneuvers Wednesday to help defeat a bill that would have overhauled the state's pension system. That, too, was backed by powerful interests: the Florida Chamber of Commerce and House Speaker Will Weatherford.
"He's a rock star," Gualtieri said.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at [email protected]