Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, chair of a public safety task force charged with reviewing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, moved quickly at the group’s first meeting Tuesday to dispel criticism that it was stacked with pro-gun members, reports the News Service of Florida.
Critics have charged that the panel – appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to review the law that has figured prominently in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin – includes members who helped pass the law in 2005, but no known opponents.
“Before the task force had even convened its first meeting, the press had already speculated what we will and will not do,” Carroll said. “They have already discounted this task force as politically unbalanced.”
She said that aside from four current or former lawmakers who voted for “stand your ground” – Carroll, House sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland and a co-sponsor, and Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando – she had no idea how the other 15 members of the Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force felt about the controversial statute.
“So it’s a mischaracterization to assume that this task force is not balanced,” Carroll said.
She asked members to approach their task “with an unbiased mind.”
Scott formed the panel after the Feb. 26 shooting of Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, attracted national attention, including sparking marches as far away as New York and California. Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed Martin, an African American, in self-defense and cited the “stand your ground” law allowing individuals to use deadly force if they feel threatened.
Most of the panel’s first meeting was devoted to housekeeping – introductions, a review of Florida’s Sunshine Law, the history of the “stand your ground” law and the development of a mission statement and work plan.
The panel will take public testimony at future meetings. The next will be June 12 in Sanford.
Other dates and locations: July 10 in Desoto County; Sept. 12 in Miami, with an effort to meet in Martin’s hometown of Miami Gardens; and Sept. 13 in Palm Beach County. The panel agreed to hold its October meeting in Pensacola and its November meeting in Jacksonville, but did not set specific dates.
Carroll said no changes could be made to a meeting agenda once that meeting had been publicly noticed. She said that was why she had declined Sen. Chris Smith’s April 26 request to speak to the task force at its inaugural meeting.
Smith, who was in the audience, released the recommendations of his own “stand your ground” task force on Monday. It was started, he said, because the governor had waited too long to convene the public safety panel, and its recommendations included revisions to the law but not its outright repeal.
Despite his concerns, Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he had confidence in the “legal minds” on Scott’s panel, particularly Katherine Fernandez Rundle of Miami, the state attorney for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit.
“They have some political appointees on there, and people that may have a political agenda,” he said. “But I hope that they take a legal agenda and really look at the law from a legal standpoint and how it’s being used and misused in the state of Florida.”
Smith will present his panel’s recommendations at the next meeting in Sanford.
On Tuesday, the task force spent most of its time debating its mission, work plan and meeting locations.
Baxley, referring to himself as “the father of the Castle Doctrine” on which the “stand your ground” law is based, argued against a mission statement narrowly focused on revising that statute.
“I understood the task to be much broader,” Baxley said. “We’re not talking about one case. This is about the safety of our citizens.”
Carroll responded that with more than 170 public safety laws in Florida, the panel doesn’t have time to examine them all.
“Other public safety laws may pop up,” she said. “It may be beyond our scope, but it’s our responsibility to bring to the Legislature any recommendations” about other laws to examine.
As the work plan unfolded, it became clear that the task force likely would meet until the 2013 legislative session starts in March – although Smith has been calling for a special session to revise “stand your ground.”
“We’re not going to rush this process,” said Rev. R.B. Holmes, the vice chair. “We laid out a clear road map to get us to March to bring before the governor. With all due respect to my good friend Sen. Smith, this is not a South Florida task force. This is a state of Florida task force that is very, very inclusive.”
Smith said he wanted a special session as soon as possible due to continued misunderstanding of the law.
“I think it’s still urgent,” he said. “Because of the Trayvon Martin case and all the publicity it’s gotten, you’ve got people around the state that still believe that they have the right to have a gun and go out and kill someone, and then you stand your ground, be the aggressor, or patrol your neighborhoods and confront anyone and use this.”
The public is encouraged to email the task force at [email protected]