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  1. Florida Politics

Local leaders applaud Les Miller's stand on assault weapons, but hesitate to follow

The two city council leaders of Tampa Bay's largest cities agreed Friday that Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller is a brave man for planning to introduce local gun control legislation that could land him a hefty fine and a pink slip from elected office.

Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne "Yolie" Capin and St. Petersburg City Council chairwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said they would follow Miller's example, introducing measures (or instructing city staff to prepare) municipal versions of Miller's county plan.

By lunchtime, however, both Capin and Wheeler-Bowman had thought better of the potentially career-ending move.

A 2011 state law allows local officials to be fined $5,000 and removed from office if they enact gun rules.

After speaking with St. Petersburg City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch, Wheeler-Bowman reconsidered her initial impulse. Kovilaritch informed her that state law would prevent city attorneys from defending her.

"If I was removed, I wouldn't be able to accomplish other things that I wanted to do in office. Even though, in my heart, I want to do it," Wheeler-Bowman said. "I wouldn't want to put my other colleagues in that position as well."

Like Wheeler-Bowman, Capin said her initial plan would have placed the other six Tampa City Council members in a political pickle.

Capin originally planned to instruct city attorneys to draw up an ordinance similar to Miller's idea to ban assault weapons, among other restrictions.

"Let's try it and see what happens," said Capin, who has begun two recent council meetings with sharp criticism of federal and state inaction on guns following the Parkland mass shooting.

Shortly after, though, Capin recast her stance.

"I spoke with Les Miller and what I'm going to propose is a resolution of support. I thought about it and don't want to put my colleagues in a position where they have to (make) a choice of possibly being fined and taken out of office," Capin wrote in a text.

Meanwhile, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is interested in a plan by Coral Spring Mayor Skip Campbell to lead a drive to place a constitutional amendment before voters.

"At this point Mayor Buckhorn is reviewing the proposal by the mayor of Coral Springs and believes letting the voters choose is the right route," Buckhorn spokesman Ashley Bauman wrote in an email.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's spokesman didn't respond Friday, but Kriseman recently reiterated his position that, while he think it's outrageous, his hands are tied on the issue.

So far, South Florida is leading the way on local pushback against state preemption. Earlier this week, Coral Springs officials said they would pursue an assault weapon ban. Tampa Bay elected officials appear less interested in that route.

Tampa council member Mike Suarez, widely expected to make a run for mayor next year, said he wouldn't propose an assault weapon ban because, under current state law, it amounts to an empty gesture.

"Is City Council the place to do it? Probably not. It's a place where people can make a stand. Not make a difference on this issue," Suarez said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@Charlie Frago.

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