Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the only gun-related measure of the 2013 session, weathering the protests of gun-rights advocates who inundated his office despite the bill’s backing by the National Rifle Association.
Scott also signed into law 45 other bills Friday, including a measure that would require local governments to allow citizens to speak at meetings and a proposal easing local oversight of charter schools. He vetoed a bill dealing with Pinellas County law enforcement.
The gun bill (HB 1355) closes a loophole in state law, regarding individuals who have been hospitalized for observation under the Baker Act. The act is an involuntary or emergency commitment to a mental health facility for up to 72 hours, ordered by judges, doctors or law enforcement officials if a person is deemed to have a mental illness or to be a danger.
With the exception of the bill signed into law by Scott on Friday, the gun-friendly, GOP-controlled Legislature avoided action on gun legislation and ignored demands from Democratic lawmakers to amend the state’s “stand your ground” law in response to last year’s shooting of Trayvon Martin. Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, on trial in Orlando, claims he shot in self-defense.
According to Scott’s office, the governor received more than 21,000 e-mails asking him to veto the measure and fewer than 4,000 in support. The veto campaign was launched by the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), which describes itself as a more-conservative alternative to the NRA.
But Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist and a former national NRA president, said that those seeking a veto were confused about what the measure, sponsored by two Democratic lawmakers, does.
“The governor did the right thing,” Hammer said Friday evening. “It’s important to keep dangerous people with mental illnesses from being able to buy guns.”
In early April, Dudley Brown, NAGR’s executive vice president, sent an e-mail alerting supporters that “gun-grabbing Rep. Barbara Watson,” the bill’s House sponsor, “is teaming up with the NRA in Florida in an anti-gun betrayal that will make your head spin.”
In his transmittal letter, Scott praised Hammer and Watson, D-Miami Gardens, for “their hard work to address a critical public safety issue following the all too frequent gun violence tragedies throughout our nation.”
Scott also addressed concerns expressed in the blast emails that changing the law would deprive Floridians of their Second Amendment rights. Individuals can petition the court to have their gun rights restored “and demonstrating they are no longer likely to act in a dangerous manner,” Scott wrote, noting that Virginia and Mississippi have similar laws.
In other action:
— Scott signed into law HB 7009, which eases regulations on charter schools – allowing high-performing charters to expand on their own, without needing school board approval to increase enrollment.
The measure also requires the Florida Department of Education to create a standard, statewide charter school contract to block some school districts from imposing stricter requirements than others.
The legislation also prohibits students at Florida schools from being taught two consecutive years by teachers rated “unsatisfactory” or “needs improvement.” The provision was taken from so-called parent trigger legislation that has otherwise failed on tie votes in the Senate the past two years.
— The public will be allowed to speak on issues before governing boards, including county commissions, under a measure (SB 50) Scott also signed Friday. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sponsored the legislation in response to complaints that some governments were refusing to let people speak at public meetings. The new law, which goes into effect on Oct. 1, does not require the Legislature to let the public speak at meetings.
— Scott vetoed a measure (HB 1411) which would have increased by $1 a court cost fee assessed on traffic citations in Pinellas County that is used to finance background screening of law enforcement applicants. Scott said the boost was “an additional burden on those living in and traveling through Pinellas County.”
Scott’s actions Friday left just three bills from the 2013 session in limbo. The governor is expected to act on those bills next week.
Palm Beach Post staff writer John Kennedy contributed to this story.
The gun bill (HB 1355) aims to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Current law: Names of people who are involuntarily ordered into treatment under the Baker Act are added to a national database to keep them from purchasing guns. But people who voluntarily agree to treatment, the vast majority of whom receive follow-up care, do not get on the list.
New law: Adds names of people who voluntarily agree to treatment after being hospitalized under the Baker Act to national database, preventing them from purchasing guns.