But the new version of Senate Bill 344, which was endorsed unanimously by the Senate Rules Committee, is more tempered than previous drafts because of a sweeping amendment offered by chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.
The compromise is intended to make the proposal more palatable to critics. Gun-rights advocates — such as the National Rifle Association and Florida Carry — said they “can live with” the changes but preferred the original version, which offered defendants even greater protection from prosecution.
The original bill filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, shifted the burden of proof in a preliminary hearing to prosecutors, requiring them to show “beyond a reasonable doubt” why a defendant is not entitled to a stand-your-ground defense.
Simmons’ changes to the bill also removed controversial financial penalties and civil liability prosecutors could have faced if they lost in the pre-trial hearing. Bradley agreed such measures would be “unprecedented” to include in the law; he supported Simmons’ amendment as “reasonable.”
Also gone: Wording describing the Legislature’s desire to “correct misinterpretations” of legislative intent by the courts — remarks that Simmons said would be more “appropriate” somewhere else, like “a press conference,” but not in the bill itself.
The bill is contrary to what Florida courts — culminating in a Supreme Court decision last summer — have ruled. Justices stated that defendants who claim a stand-your-ground defense have to prove before trial why they’re entitled to that immunity.
Undaunted by the stalling of a similar bill last month in a House committee, Bradley said he hopes the full Senate will approve his amended proposal during the first couple weeks of session in January.
If it does, the bill would then be sent over to the House, where Bradley said he hopes Speaker Steve Crisafulli will put it directly before the full House for a vote.
When asked whether Crisafulli would entertain that option for Bradley’s bill, his spokesman Michael Williams told the Herald/Times: “The House rules certainly allow us to take up the Senate bill.”
Such a move would bypass last month’s deadlocked vote in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, where Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined with the panel’s four Democrats to oppose Bradley’s companion legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.
Florida’s 10-year-old “stand your ground” law allows residents to use deadly force in defense of their lives or property in certain circumstances, with no requirement to retreat.
After lengthy discussion and debate Thursday, Simmons also successfully added an amendment to “clean up” the stand-your-ground law, related to other changes lawmakers made in 2013. It clarifies that individuals don’t have to first be “attacked” in their homes in order to stand their ground.
“We knew this needed to be corrected, and this is the perfect opportunity to correct it,” Simmons said.