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Brandes-Fitzenhagen gun bill passes committees with limited opposition

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A matching pair of proposals to allow Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permitduring certain emergency situations passed committees in both legislative chambers on Wednesday.

First up was Ft. Myers Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen‘s HB 493, which passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee by a vote of 9-2, with Democratic Reps. Clovis Watson and Randolph Bracy dissenting.

Before the vote Fitzenhagen amended her bill to create a 48-hour time limit on the bill’s exemption to concealed-carry statutes during evacuations, with a provision that allows the governor to extend it as necessary on an ad hoc basis.

This move brings the bill in line with the Senate version sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, who watched as his legislation died in the upper chamber last year amid pushback from anti-gun and law enforcement groups – as well as Pinellas rival Sen. Jack Latvala. Only Orlando Sen. Geraldine Thompson voted No on the bill in today’s meeting of Senate Community Affairs, where it passed 4-1.

All three No votes – Thompson, Watson and Bracy – were issued by African-American Democrats from cities with higher levels of gun violence than most of the state.

The Florida Sherriffs’ Association spoke in support of both bills, which it opposed last session, as did the Florida Police Chiefs. Opposition from police officers was a sticking point last year for Inverness Sen. Charlie Dean, who tipped his cap in appreciation to Brandes for making the aforementioned changes regarding a built-in expiration to the bill’s exemption.

One bellwether on the Senate side was Sen. Joe Abruzzo, a Democrat who represents a heavily urban district in Palm Beach County, where attitudes about guns are considerably liberal-learning. Abruzzo, who has deep ties to local police and fire unions, praised the bill in committee and endorsed it with a vote of Yea.

Abruzzo’s vote augers well for Brandes’ bill and suggests that an organized campaign against the bill in unlikely this Session.

Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association waived, of course, in support.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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