Senate committee approves bill allowing tax offices to process gun permits

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The Senate Agriculture Committee approved unanimously on Monday a National Rifle Association-backed bill allowing gun owners to apply for concealed weapons licenses at their local tax collector’s offices.

Florida number of concealed weapons permits is growing and has recently topped more than one million.

Facing high demands, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services—with only eight regional branch offices where gun owners can apply in person for the permits—can have waiting times as much as six months for an appointment.

“It’s a convenience for the citizens of the state of Florida to be able to come into their own county in buildings that their taxes helped pay for,” Indian River County Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan told Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida. “Whether it’s paying their taxes or getting a driver’s license, it’s a courtesy to the taxpayers,”.

If passed, the proposal will allow tax collectors to charge an extra $22 (in addition to the $70 new application fee) and an additional $12 for renewals, which currently cost $60.

County officials already handle many other actions associated with concealed weapons permit applications, such as photos and fingerprints. Application costs do not include $42 for background checks, which the agriculture department will continue to manage.

The NRA estimates there are almost 8 million gun owners in Florida, and officials say that if they can get concealed weapons licenses easier — a process that includes training — it could make Floridians safer overall.

“They become a little more conscious of the responsibility of gun ownership,” NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer told Kam. “I think it can’t hurt.”

Eight Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services locations — Fort Walton Beach, Jacksonville, Doral, Orlando, Punta Gorda, Tallahassee, Tampa and West Palm Beach — can be as much as  two-hour drives for some Floridians.

Many gun owners prefer to complete paperwork in person, to avoid delays in processing mailed applications. Regional offices can provide better assistance to applicants, further shortening processing times.

Applications currently take up to 35 days to process once received by the agency, spokesperson Aaron Keller tells the News Service. Years ago, processing took up to up to six months, which by Florida law are required to be completed within 90 days.

Program start-up costs would be about $800,000, taken from the $26 million trust fund of concealed weapons license fees, which include adding 11 new workers to set up the system in 30 counties, said Keller.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.