Gov. Rick Scott responded smartly to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by creating a task force to review Florida's ill-conceived "stand your ground law.'' But the governor undermined the board's independence by including on the panel the legislator who drafted the law and still defends it as well as the legislator who sponsored the bill and contends it is only being misused by police and prosecutors. Now the task force's objectivity is shot before it even meets.
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer facing second-degree murder charges in 17-year-old Martin's death, is one of a long list of Floridians who have invoked "stand your ground" to justify killing in what they claim was self-defense. Since the law's passage in 2005, "justifiable homicides" in the state have tripled, with "stand your ground" used to justify killings in gang battles, bar fights and road rage incidents. A review is overdue.
The task force will be led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and Scott turned to House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, for recommendations. All three had co-sponsored and voted for "stand your ground." Of the four lawmakers they recommended not a single one has criticized the law or represents Martin's home area of Miami Gardens. The four include Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the law and has defended it since the Martin shooting; Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland; Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando; and Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford.
Simmons helped draft the final language of "stand your ground," and Siplin voted for it. Brodeur wasn't in the Legislature at the time but is a supporter of expanded gun rights and a member of the special interest group that pushed for "stand your ground" legislation. Other task force members include law enforcement, defense attorneys and watch volunteers.
Critics of the law such as Democratic Sens. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale wanted seats on the task force. Carroll contends Smith had not applied and that selection was based on an application process. But Siplin, who was chosen, says he didn't submit an application. Was there really a formal application process that every prospective task force member went through? Or is that just a convenient excuse by Carroll? Smith had launched his own task force out of frustration with the governor's efforts. That initially seemed premature, but now it appears justified with Scott's task force already tainted.
Putting together an impartial panel to objectively review the controversial law in the wake of Martin's death was a political challenge, but it could have been done. The ham-handed effort has resulted in a task force that is less politically balanced than it should be to instill public confidence in its work, and it raises questions about Scott's intentions. The first meeting is May 1. The panel could rise above expectations, but it's not a promising start.