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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
Politics

State House loosens mandatory minimum sentences


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TALLAHASSEE — After fierce debate over a proposal to repeal Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, the House on Thursday passed a law aimed at loosening the state’s mandatory-minimum sentencing laws.

The legislation, HB 89, didn’t include “stand your ground” repeal language until Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, filed an amendment less than eight hours before the bill hit the House floor.

The “stand your ground” language had no chance of passage in the GOP-dominated House, but did spark debate on the issue “‘Stand your ground’ has essentially failed my community,” said state Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville. “It may work for your community, but it is not working for ours.”

Supporters of the law said that there is a “false narrative” surrounding the law after a handful of deaths involving black teenagers, but the gunmen weren’t convicted of the killings. The law gained national prominence after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whose gunman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges.

George Zimmerman, the shooter, didn’t use “stand your ground” as part of his defense, but it was included in the jury instructions.

Supporters said it’s about the right to self-defense.

“The question you need to ask yourself is should we have the fundamental right to protect ourselves from those who seek to harm us,” said state Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral.

As expected, the GOP-led House was easily able to swat the “stand your ground” amendment on an 83-31 vote, with 12 Democrats joining Republicans.

The underlying bill, which passed on a 93-24 vote, changes state self-defense laws to include “justifiable use of force,” or actions like a warning shot. Currently, self-defense laws only apply to someone who actually uses force.

House sponsor Neil Combee, R-Auburndale, has said the bill was inspired by Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who was sentenced to 20 years for firing in the direction of her estranged husband during a fight.

Under the 10-20-Life law, a person gets an automatic 10-year sentence for showing a firearm while committing certain crimes; firing a shot during a crime requires a 20-year sentence, and shooting someone calls for a 25-years-to-life sentence.

If Combee’s bill becomes law, in cases like Alexander’s, a judge will have more flexibility and not be required to stick to mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines.

In other House votes Thursday:

In-state tuition for undocumented students

After a week of Capitol rallies held in support of a measure granting in-state tuition to undocumented students, the House passed the bill Thursday on an 81-33 vote.

Though the bill passed with bipartisan support, some Democrats were critical of an amendment added Wednesday that increased the number of years an eligible student must attend a Florida high school from three to four years.

That same amendment reduced from 15 percent to 6 percent the amount universities can increase tuition without state approval. The Senate bill eliminates that so-called “differential tuition,” which gained the support of Gov. Rick Scott.

“I support the Senate version,” Scott said emphatically after the vote.

License tag fee reductions

Scott can check ‘roll back motor vehicle fees’ off his legislative wish list.

The state House unanimously approved Thursday a proposal to roll back motor vehicle renewal fees to pre-2009 levels. The measure is expected to reduce fees by $395 million a year.

The state Senate on Tuesday approved the bill, SB 156 sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

While the measure passed the House unanimously, it wasn’t without a bit of controversy. Democrats took to the floor to criticize Scott, a Naples Republican, for playing politics with Floridians’ tax dollars.

“We’re doing this because one governor wants to use this issue against a former governor in the election. That’s it. Let’s just tell the voters that,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs.

The rates were increased in 2009, when former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist was in office. Crist is now running for governor as a Democrat.

The bill, saving about $25 on a tag renewal, heads to Scott’s office for his signature.

Matt.Dixon@naplesnews.com

(352) 233-0777

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