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Florida House Dems Divided Over Upcoming Stand Your Ground Hearing

Sascha Cordner
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston (middle) Wednesday talking to reporters about wanting a fix to Florida's Stand Your Ground law, as Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee)(far right), whose repeal bill is slated for a vote Thursday, looks on.

On the eve of a voteon a bill that would repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, some House Democrats are split: Try to change the law or put an end to it altogether?

At the request of House Speaker Will Weatherford, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is slated to take up Tallahassee Democratic Representative Alan Williams’ bill to repeal Stand Your Ground Thursday. The head of the hearing is Shalimar Republican Matt Gaetz, who doesn’t want to see a change, much less a repeal.  Still, while repealing the law is unlikely, Williams says it’s still worth a vote.

“If the votes come down where they don’t repeal Stand Your Ground, then at least the citizens of the state of Florida had their day in the process. And, if it does, then we’ll move this bill to the next committee and we’ll have another conversation. But, this is about giving the people of the state of Florida the opportunity to voice their concern and have a vote,” said Williams.

But during a press conference Wednesday, House Minority Leader Perry Thurston—one of Williams’ fellow Democrats—said the hearing is a waste of time.

“Well, if they take a vote, we think it’s pretty obvious what that vote is going to be. And, we’re not here just to sit around and say ‘your side says this and my side says this. We’ve got more votes on the committee, so the bill fails. The people of Florida won.’ That’s not what the people of Florida want us to do,” said Thurston.

Thurston says instead, Floridians want a bipartisan fix—already moving through the Senate—aimed at making small changes to Stand Your Ground. And he’s disappointed Gaetz won’t put the House bill on his agenda. Gaetz says the bill lacks substance, adding House Democrats are divided and not sure what they want.

“Representative Williams, by every measure, is a very hard working person, who’s put in a lot of time into getting his repeal bill up for a vote. And, because he’s worked hard, and I think he has an argument to present, I wanted to give him a platform to make his argument. But, then the day before Representative Williams is going to present his bill to repeal Stand Your Ground, the leader of their own party stands up and says ‘well, we don’t support a full repeal, we want to see some changes,’” said Gaetz.

Gaetz says while he doesn’t support a full repeal either, he believes in another bill that will also be taken up during the five-hour hearing. It’s a measure to address what the bill’s sponsor, Polk City Republican Neil Combee, calls “the unintended consequences” of the state’s 10-20-Life law. Combee’s bill would grant immunity to a person who fires warning shots to protect themselves and others.

It’s inspired by Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who received 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot to scare her husband during an alleged domestic violence dispute. She invoked Stand Your Ground during her hearing, but a judge said it didn’t apply.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.