Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Politics

Senate panel to consider 'stand your ground' revisions

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — A Senate panel today will consider two proposals to amend the "stand your ground" self-defense law that would require law enforcement agencies to set guidelines for neighborhood watch programs.

One of the bills was filed by Sen. David Simmons, the Republican senator who drafted the original statute nearly a decade ago.

"The stand your ground law is an excellent law, but there are some improvements that can be made," said Simmons of Altamonte Springs.

Today's hearing marks the first time state lawmakers will consider revising the self-defense law since George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said he supports moving forward with modifications "in a bipartisan way."

But whether a similar proposal would gain traction in the Florida House of Representatives remains to be seen. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican tasked with chairing a House review of the law, has said he will not change "one damn comma" in the existing statute.

Gaetz did not return calls seeking comment.

Florida's stand your ground law passed in 2005 with widespread approval from both Democrats and Republicans. But it became a political lightning rod in 2012, when Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, an unarmed black teenager from Miami Gardens.

The controversy only intensified when Zimmerman was acquitted earlier this year. While Zimmerman never claimed a "stand your ground" defense, the wording of the law appeared in the jury instructions.

Simmons's bill would require sheriffs' offices and municipal police departments to craft guidelines for neighborhood watch programs, such as the one for which Zimmerman volunteered. The guidelines would prohibit neighborhood watch volunteers from "confronting or attempting to apprehend a person suspected of improper or unlawful activity" unless necessary to help another person.

"We want to assure that participants in neighborhood watch programs are not self-proclaimed vigilantes," Simmons said. "They don't need to be pursuing and confronting would-be suspects."

As Judiciary Committee chairman, Lee has pitched language that would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create a uniform training program for participants in neighborhood watch programs. The training would address "the unlawful use of force and conduct that may unreasonably create or escalate a confrontation between a neighborhood watch participant and a person suspected of unlawful activity," among other topics.

Simmons supports the amendment, he said.

Simmons' proposal would also clarify that the law should not be used to hinder police investigations, and that innocent bystanders can sue if they are injured by a person who is standing his or her ground.

A separate bill from Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, has similar language about required guidelines for neighborhood watch programs. But it also prevents individuals from initiating or "unreasonably escalating" a deadly conflict — and then using the "stand your ground" law to claim immunity from prosecution.

"Even if you think what Mr. Zimmerman did was legal, it's important to show that it wasn't appropriate," Smith said. "We shouldn't follow people, begin altercations and then end those altercations by taking a life."

Lee, a Brandon Republican, is hoping to build bipartisan consensus around a combined bill.

"There are a lot of stakeholders, members and special-interest groups who have different ideas about the changes that should be made to 'stand your ground,' " he said. "I'm trying to corral them and shepherd those ideas through the process, at least in the Senate."

What will happen in the lower chamber remains unclear.

House Speaker Will Weatherford called for a review of the "stand your ground" law this summer. But Gaetz, the designated chairman, said the hearing couldn't take place during this month's committee meetings because Rep. Alan Williams was unable to attend. Williams, D-Tallahassee, has filed a bill seeking to repeal the law.

On Monday, Williams acknowledged that he would be out of town for "legislative travels." But the "stand your ground" hearing in the House, he said, "was not contingent on me."

Williams said he was glad to see the Senate make the first move.

"Having the Senate go first will put the House in a better position to have the conversation," he said.

Comments
2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A second woman has accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching.Lindsay Menz tells CNN that Franken placed his hand on her bottom as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, two years into Fran...
Published: 11/20/17
Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism chiefs at Visit Florida spend a lot of public money taking trips to exotic places to promote Florida as a top worldwide destination. Four former top-level staff members at the state’s tourism...
Published: 11/20/17
Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

TAMPA — A week ahead of the expected vote on a controversial tax reform bill, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited Tampa to deliver a message to small businesses: This bill will hurt you."Small businesses are the economic engine of F...
Updated: 11 hours ago
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Published: 11/19/17

Many Christian conservatives are backing Alabama’s Roy Moore

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama’s Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn’t fit the evangelical mold. ...
Published: 11/19/17
Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

WASHINGTON — It’s been nearly six years since the Senate Ethics Committee conducted a major investigation of a sitting senator. Next year, the panel could be working nonstop, deciding the fate of up to three lawmakers, including two facing allegation...
Published: 11/18/17
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y.Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t eno...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners recently decided to go after the pocketbooks of several residents who filed unsuccessful ethics complaints against one of their colleagues.If history is any indicator, the maneuver is more likely to cost taxp...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/19/17
As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

WASHINGTON — "You can do anything," Donald Trump once boasted, speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women. Maybe he could, but not everyone can. The man who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts — but denied he really did so — w...
Published: 11/17/17
Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Standing on the white marble steps of Alabama’s Capitol, Kayla Moore surrounded herself with two dozen other women Friday to defend husband Roy Moore against accusations of sexual misconduct that are dividing Republicans, and women...
Published: 11/17/17