Legislature in session: Law and order issues


300-FL-CAPITOL-TALLHistoric City News is watching the issues in front of Florida’s House and Senate that may affect us here at home, and the topics on the Legislature’s law enforcement and justice agenda include whether or not local police should be allowed to use drone aircraft for surveillance, implementing a possible concealed weapon ban at public events and a ban on loud protests at military funerals.


Description: Probably the most heated crime debate of the session will center on Florida’s “stand your ground” law, the 2005 self-defense statute that says residents can use deadly force when their lives are in danger. The law has been invoked as a defense by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch activist charged with second-degree murder in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford last year. Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has introduced a bill (SB 136) that would severely curtail application of “stand your ground.” The bill would allow police to arrest suspects pending investigation of their self-defense claims — Zimmerman was initially released, then charged after a national furor erupted — and require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to keep statistics on how the law is used. A key provision would exclude from the law’s protection anyone who leaves a safe place and causes an incident. Zimmerman left his vehicle, against police advice, to challenge Martin, who was unarmed and walking home from a store at night.

Outlook: Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the law eight years ago, said he does not foresee major changes. Baxley noted that Zimmerman’s trial has not yet occurred and a task force created by Gov. Rick Scott after the Martin shooting did not reccommend scrapping the “stand your ground” defense.


Description: Although House and Senate bills to ban texting while driving died near the end of the 2012 Session, lawmakers are back with legislation to stamp out the practice. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has reintroduced the legislation. Detert’s bill (SB 52), unanimously approved by the Senate Transportation Committee, provides fines and license points for drivers — particularly in school zones. Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who co-sponsored this year’s (HB 13) and last year’s House bills, have proposed SB 708, which would make vehicular homicide the standard penalty for causing an auto accident while texting. Soto said people may disagree about the dangers of distractions, but “there should be no debate that if you kill someone due to texting while driving, you should go to jail.”

Outlook: The texting-while-driving ban seems safe in the Senate, but the outlook in the House is uncertain. While lawmakers agree the practice isn’t safe, some opponents of the bill think the infraction might be abused as a revenue-enhancer for cities hard up for cash. That’s why the pending bill would make texting a “secondary offense,” an add-on when police catch a driver doing something else illegal.


Description: After Congress gave the Federal Aviation Authority the power last year to permit drone use by government public safety agencies, it prompted concerns about domestic spying and privacy issues as well as airspace safety. Although Miami-Dade has the only Florida law enforcement agency equipped with drones, the issue moved State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Ritch Workman to file bills (SB 92 and HB 119 respectively) that would forbid police from using flying drones in surveillance. The bills so far have flown through committee hearings.

Outlook: Concern about drone use for surveillance seems to unite conservatives and liberals, who fear big government intrusion on civil liberties and official snooping in people’s neighborhoods. Chances of passage are brightened by exemptions for oversight authorized by the Department of Homeland Security in anti-terror operations.


The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee also is drafting a committee bill aimed at “massage parlors” that are fronts for human trafficking and prostitution, particularly in South Florida. The proposal would forbid employees to live in the establishments where they work and require the places to close between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, introduced a bill (HB 97) that would let cities and counties ban concealed weapons at concerts, ball games and other public gatherings. Florida’s concealed-weapons law now pre-empts enforcement to the state.

Reps. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, and Pat Rooney, R-West Palm Beach, want to stop loud protests at funerals — such as services for military members killed in Afghanistan. House Bills 15 and 185 would require protestors to stay 500 feet away from church property and forbids protests an hour before or after a funeral.