Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Public safety

Florida House panel votes down bill to repeal 'stand your ground'

TALLAHASSEE — A panel of Florida lawmakers on Thursday soundly rejected a proposal to repeal the ''stand your ground'' self-defense law, but enthusiastically approved a pitch to expand ''stand your ground'' immunity to people who fire a warning shot.

The votes took place at a hearing that lasted five hours before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Nearly 300 people attended, and scores signed up to give their opinion on the controversial law.

Rep. Alan Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat, said his push to repeal ''stand your ground'' had "everything to do with making sure we keep our streets and our communities and our neighborhoods safe."

"We have had a number of cases that have shown us over and over that the law as adopted in 2005 isn't working," Williams said.

But a half-dozen lawmakers, some of whom weren't on the subcommittee, came to the defense of "stand your ground."

"Today, our state is a safer place and has the lowest crime rate in 42 years," said Rep. Marti Coley, a Marianna Republican. "Florida's 'stand your ground' law is solid. It's good and should not be changed."

Said Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards, of Plantation: "The people I represent, the people we represent, need not be required, or have imposed upon them, a duty to retreat. . . . I won't turn my back on responsible self-defense laws."

The committee shot down the repeal bill in a 2-11 vote.

The two supporters: Democratic Reps. Kionne McGhee of Miami and Randolph Bracy of Orlando.

The hearing followed a tempestuous summer which saw neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager from Miami.

Zimmerman did not claim a "stand your ground" defense, but language from the law was included in the jury instructions.

After the acquittal, a group of young activists known as the Dream Defenders held a 31-day protest outside Gov. Rick Scott's office to demand a special legislative session on the self-defense law. Scott refused to call lawmakers to Tallahassee, but House Speaker Will Weatherford agreed to a hearing on the law.

From the time it was filed, the repeal bill was a long shot in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican tapped to lead the hearing, said he would not support changing "one damn comma" of the statute.

The repeal bill's chances diminished even further on Wednesday, when House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said he would prefer a bipartisan reform bill similar to one being considered in the Senate.

Still, scores of people traveled to Tallahassee to provide emotional and sometimes racially charged testimony.

The speakers included Lucia McBath, whose 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was gunned down following a 2012 dispute at a Jacksonville gas station.

"My grief is unbearable at times," said McBath, advocating for the repeal. "I'm here as a face of the countless victims of gun violence."

Arguments on the other side of the debate were just as impassioned.

"Florida sheriffs unequivocally support the right to 'stand your ground,' " Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said, noting that people don't have time to ponder why an intruder is in their home.

The committee passed a separate bill ensuring people who fire a warning shot are not subject to the minimum mandatory sentencing law known as 10-20-Life.

Edwards and Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, filed the bill after Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville was sentenced to the mandatory 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her husband. Alexander tried to claim immunity under the "stand your ground" law, but was nonetheless found guilty.

The proposal by Combee and Edwards garnered 28 co-signers, and found support on both sides of the aisle.

The bill also won the support of Marion Hammer, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Florida

"10-20-Life was never intended to be used against citizens who, in an act of self-defense, threatened the use of force to stop an attack," Hammer said.

The proposal passed by a 12-1 vote, with McGhee dissenting. Final passage into law will eventually be up to the Florida Legislature, which convenes in March for its annual 60-day session.

"To simply give a blanket cover to anyone simply because he or she raises the issue of 'stand your ground,' could be more problematic in the future than it is now," said McGhee, an attorney.

After the meeting, Rep. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who helped write the "stand your ground" law, said the votes were a testament to the popularity of the statute.

"Eighty percent of Floridians still agree that we are safer because of this law," he said.

Williams said he would put his energy into amending "stand your ground."

"If we can't repeal, we must repair," he said.

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at [email protected]

Comments

Hernando sheriff: Shooter injures three; in standoff with SWAT

BROOKSVILLE — A shooter was on the loose Tuesday night after injuring three victims, according to Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis.The sheriff would not say if there were any fatalities.The Sheriff’s Office received a report about the at about 9 p.m. Dep...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Sheriff: Pasco man planned, then carried out neighbor’s execution

Sheriff: Pasco man planned, then carried out neighbor’s execution

HOLIDAY — A neighborhood dispute ended in gunfire when one neighbor executed another on Tuesday, deputies said, as the victim kneeled in his own front yard begging for his life.The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said the execution, which took place ju...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

BRANDON — The 11-month-old girl who drowned in an apartment complex pond on Monday was identified as Deleah Morgan by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday.Deputies released no other details about the incident or the ongoing investigation....
Updated: 3 hours ago
Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and NHL All-Star Weekend overlap Saturday in downtown Tampa. Here are highlights of what to know before you go.GETTING THEREThe parade route runs generally along Bayshore Boulevard north to Ashley Street (In blue on t...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

CLEARWATER — Officials have reopened U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. except for the inside lane.  The entire highway was closed for a brief period Tuesday while workers cleaned up a chemical spill after a Terminix truck flipped over. According t...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California man has been sentenced to five months in federal prison for smuggling three highly venomous king cobras hidden in potato chip canisters through the mail.In a plea agreement, Rodrigo Franco admitted smuggling anothe...
Updated: 9 hours ago
He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

A Miami resident lost control of his truck and tumbled into Tampa Bay Tuesday morning — and walked away unscathed.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Osvaldo Jares, 25, fell asleep at the wheel of his 2002 Ford F150 before losing control and dri...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Gabriella "Gabbie" Green went to her mother, Tanya Green, for advice on some "girl drama" and harsh text and social media messages she was receiving from classmates at Surfside Middle School in Panama City Beach.Less than an hour after that conversat...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Truck carrying frozen chickens catches fire on I-75 in Brandon

Southbound lanes on Interstate 75 were closed in Brandon early Tuesday morning after a semi-trailer carrying frozen chickens caught fire.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 52-year-old Brian Keith Jester, of Venice, was driving southbound near S...
Published: 01/23/18

Alaska hit by 7.9 earthquake; tsunami warning canceled

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska’s Kodiak Island early Tuesday, prompting a tsunami warning for a large swath of the state’s coast.Officials at the National Tsunami Center canceled the warning after a few tense hours a...
Published: 01/23/18