Monday, May 28, 2018
Public safety

Gov. Rick Scott announces task force to explore 'stand your ground,' public safety laws

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's new task force on public safety will begin reviewing the state's "stand your ground" law in two weeks, but the lawmakers anchoring the group have voting records packed with support for the law and other gun rights expansions.

Critics of the Republican-leaning group doubt it will be able to effect real change. Created in the wake of Trayvon Martin's shooting death, the group is tasked with reviewing laws and policies that affect public safety.

"We have tapped a diverse and qualified group to carefully review our laws and our policies," Scott said Thursday, standing next to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who will serve as chair. Carroll co-sponsored "stand your ground" in 2005 and voted for it.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, also helped choose members. Each was a co-sponsor of the law.

The elected officials they selected include Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the "stand your ground'' measure and has indicated it doesn't need to be changed.

The 17-member task force includes several legal professionals and neighborhood watch volunteers from across the state. The vice chair is the Rev. R. B. Holmes Jr., pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee.

Carroll said members were picked based on an application process, but there are conflicting reports about how members were actually selected.

State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said he didn't know anything about a formal application and simply expressed his interest to Senate leadership. He was selected to the task force.

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, who started his own task force this month and has been critical of the governor's handling of the Martin case, said he never heard about a formal application process and took several steps to express his interest.

He was not selected, because, Carroll said, "He did not apply."

Said Smith: "When the governor announced his task force, he stated who he'd get recommendations from. I called those people and expressed my desire to serve. And I've expressed publicly in many news outlets my desire to serve. So I was surprised that there was an application process."

Other Democratic lawmakers, including some from Martin's hometown of Miami Gardens, expressed interest in serving on the task force as well but were not selected or informed of a formal application process. Many of those lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to pass gun control legislation in the past.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, put her name in the hat as well and was put forward by Democratic leaders as the candidate of choice. She was a vocal critic of "stand your ground" and voted against it in 2005. She was not picked.

"You got all those people on there who supported it, what about some people who openly opposed it?" said Joyner, who has been trying to get a meeting with the governor for four months. "He missed the boat on this one."

The task force includes a state prosecutor, Katherine Fernandez Rundle of Miami-Dade, as well a public defender and private lawyers.

Scott said he's confident in the task force and said it would not go into the process with preconceived notions.

"I'm a firm supporter of the Second Amendment," he said. "I also wanted to make sure we do not rush to conclusions about the 'stand your ground' law, or any other laws in our state."

The task force was spurred by the shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, which has put an international spotlight on the state of Florida and its self-defense laws.

Martin was shot and killed on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, who volunteered as a neighborhood watchman at a subdivision in Sanford. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder.

According to investigators, Martin was walking through the subdivision when he was "profiled" and "confronted" by Zimmerman, leading to a struggle and a fatal shooting.

That account is disputed by Zimmerman, who is claiming self-defense under "stand your ground."

Times/Herald writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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