A series of gun-related measures are now heading for floor votes, including a House bill aimed at revising Florida schools’ zero tolerance policies. Both chambers are also expected to take up a measure that seeks to protect gun owners from insurance discrimination.
"Pop Tart" Gun Bill
Unlike its Senate companion, there hasn’t been a single “no” vote against the House bill (HB 7029) seeking to relax Florida’s zero-tolerance policies. Ocala Republican Representative Dennis Baxley says he wants to make sure kids aren’t facing suspension or a juvenile record for an act as simple as wearing a T-shirt with a gun on it.
“I think it does lay down the proper balance and hopefully, it will be an example, and an opportunity for administrators to feel they are empowered to make those common sense judgments,” said Baxley.
Palm Harbor Democratic Representative Carl Zimmerman says he supports the so-called “Pop Tart” bill, named after the actions of a young Maryland boy who was suspended for chewing his breakfast into a gun shape.
“What I like about this bill is it still allows for disciplinary action if it is a threat. If a kid comes to the teacher and points their finger and goes “pow,” as a threat, they can still be disciplined. This just takes the absurdity out of that,” said Zimmerman.
South Pasadena Republican Representative Kathleen Peters says she too likes the bill, but she says it could go further. She wants to expand it to include more circumstances where students won’t face arrests.
“It is unfortunately common practice for our kids to be criminalized for things like writing on the bathroom wall, or cursing at a teacher, or things like that. And we are wrapping up our kids in the Juvenile justice system for unnecessary and unreasonable reasons,” said Peters.
The 16 members of the House Education Committee approved the bill Thursday. Its Senate companion (SB 1060) just cleared its first hearing Monday.
Insurance Discrimination Ban Bill
But, in another House panel, debate grew contentious as lawmakers vetted another bill (HB 255) seeking to enhance penalties against insurers who discriminate against gun owners.
Fort Walton Beach Republican Representative Matt Gaetz says he’s only seeking to protect gun owners from discrimination by allowing them to have the added protection of bringing their grievance to court. But, after repeatedly requests from lawmakers on the panel, he could only provide a few instances where his bill would have applied.
“I can tell you Castle Key Insurance on January 15th cancelled Mr. Richard Page’s policy as a result of his ownership of ammunition, so I presume that that was information they acquired in some manner. But, there was a circumstance recently where Citizens Insurance through their Clearinghouse on their website, had posted questions regarding gun ownership. However, as was pointed out in the last committee of reference for this bill, Citizens quickly removed those questions from its web site,” said Gaetz.
While he voted to move the bill forward, Pensacola Republican Representative Mike Hill says he’s got misgivings. Mainly that he’s not sure there’s a problem.
“And, I am a proponent of the free-market of allowing consumers to choose and also allowing businesses to choose how they want to operate, and it seems like this is creating a hindrance to that. Should it occur where an insurance company cancels a policy because of the firearms or amount of ammunition there, the consumer has the ability to go to another company and choose who they want,” Hill.
Others, including Port St. Lucie Democratic Representative Larry Lee, provided scenarios of the bill’s potential to create unintended consequences.
“Sometimes, we create bills that create problems down the road, and when those bills get on the books, sometimes lives are lost. Just fast forward, if sometime in the future, if this bill passes, I guarantee you this will happen. You have a condo, a townhouse, or an apartment owner, that’s storing up tons of ammunition. That building catching fire, you could have an explosion that takes out the whole wing.”
And, Coconut Creek Democratic Representative Jim Waldman called it a waste of time.
“It’s only here because you want to be able to say that we did something for gun owners this year, so we can go out there and talk about everyone’s Second Amendment rights. That’s ridiculous,” said Waldman. "We ought to be dealing with issues that make sense, those who are uninsured, we ought to be dealing with education. We shouldn’t be dealing with laws that already exist, just to supercharge them for no reason, for no instance of anything happening.”
Still, the National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer says the bill is needed, just based on the cases they know of so far.
“This bill just stops discrimination against law abiding citizens who own firearms and ammunition and exercise their constitutional right. Puts little teeth in the law,” said Hammer.
After taking more than half an hour to discuss the bill, the House Regulatory Affairs Committee agreed to pass it 11-5, with most Democrats opposed. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version (SB 424) 17-2 with bipartisan support in four minutes Thursday, with some Democrats voting against the measure.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.