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Gun-Related Measures, Voucher Expansion Bill Among Latest Signed Into Law

MGN Online

Governor Rick Scott has signed close to 70 bills into law this week—most of them Friday. They include a slew of gun-related measures, a controversial voucher expansion bill, and a bill dealing with medical marijuana.

Charlotte's Web

Among the high profile bills the Governor has already signed includes a bill that would legalize a low strain of marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web”to help treat seizures.

“I met with some of the individuals that believe this is going to help them. I want to make sure it’s safe for our children, and that’s why I signed the bill,” said Scott.

Still he affirmed his position on the amendment—legalizing medical marijuana as a whole—expected to appear on the November ballot.

“I’ve watched families deal with alcoholism, with illegal drug use, and so I personally be voting against it, but it’s a ballot imitative, and everyone in our state will have the opportunity to vote,” added Scott.

Human Trafficking Bills

That same day he made those remarks, Scott joined by victims, agency heads, and state lawmakers, signed two bills into law aimed at toughening Florida’s human trafficking laws and increasing protections for victims.

And, Niki Cross, survivor and founder of S.T.A.A.R. Ministry, a group that helps victims, was very touched.

“I would have never imagined 40 years ago when I was chained in a third floor attic by the ankle that I’d be standing, doing this today. So, we will get there! We will win this fight! I thank you so much Governor for what you’re doing . It means the world to me and to every girl I stand here representing,” said Cross.

Stadium Funding Bill

Friday, the Governor signed into law a bill that would essentially allow professional sports organizations, like the Daytona International Speedway, to get taxpayer dollars to build new stadiums or upgrade current ones. Its spokesman Lenny Santiago says it will not just help the speedway, but the community as a whole.

“’Daytona Rising,’ which is the redevelopment project here underway in the Daytona International Speedway is a great example. We’ve had a study conducted on what the project would generate, and the results are actually very strong. It’s expected to create 6,300 jobs throughout the construction period as well as $300 million in labor income and $80 million in tax revenue. Those are strong numbers for our community here, not only here in Volusia County, but as well as in Central Florida,” said Santiago.

Gun Bills

Scott also approved several gun-related measures, including a bill banning insurers from discriminating against gun owners and another allowing tax collectors to help the state process gun applications to meet a growing demand for concealed weapon permits.

Scott also gave his stamp of approval to the so-called “Warning Shot” bill, a measure that would allow someone to threaten the use of force or fire a warning shot without fear of prosecution. It was inspired by Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who fired a warning shot during an alleged domestic dispute and received a lengthy prison term. Though, Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker) says he’s unsure whether the new law will help her.

“Well, it depends upon the situation or the case itself, but it would have given another line of defense to protect folks that actually discharge a weapon that could be used in a court of law to see that these folks would not be charged with criminal activity,” said Evers.

Evers, who sponsored that measure, also authored the so-called “Pop Tart” bill—another measure Scott signed into law aimed at revising school’s zero tolerance policies regarding schools and guns.

A Maryland boy, for example, was suspended from school for chewing his Pop tart into a gun. And, in Florida, kids could even be referred to the juvenile justice system for wearing clothes with a gun on it.

“Why do we want to take children that’s just being children and give them a record to where they would feel they’re a loser, they’re never going to amount to anything, their life is ruined? So, that’s the purpose of the bill: to protect kids, but yet it still allows the principal to make a decision if it is a harmful situation that needs some attention, it can be done,” added Evers.

School Voucher Expansion

The Governor also signed a comprehensive education bill, which includes helping students with special needs get an education as well as the controversial expansion of the state's corporate tax scholarship "voucher" program—allowing for middle-income families to receive a private-school voucher.

While some groups like StudentsFirst Florida hailed the signing of the bill, the Florida Education Association did not. FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow says they’re concerned the expansion will come at the expense of public schools.

“There’s only a certain amount of dollars available for public education or for education in general, and this is money that’s not going to public schools which have virtually 90 percent off all the students in Florida…so, anytime you finance unaccountable private schools, you’re not financing public schools properly,” said Pudlow.

Pudlow says the union representing thousands of teachers is looking into whether to file a lawsuit.

“Well, I mean we’re exploring our options. There may be an opportunity to examine this in the court system, but that’s something that we haven’t made a firm decision on yet,” he added.

Juvenile Justice Bills

Meanwhile, also included in the wide-ranging bill is a provision to help juveniles in the detention system get the education tools they need to re-enter society—one of the priorities of outgoing Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters.

“That is going to increase the funding for school districts for children who are serving in our residential programs. It’s going to be easier for them to get vocational training and different kinds of skill sets, which is going to help them get jobs when they leave our programs,” said Walters.

In addition to signing a measure rewriting the state’s current laws governing the juvenile justice system earlier this week, he also approved a bill revamping Florida’s juvenile life sentencing laws and another that ensures locked-up juveniles get the medical and mental health treatment they need.

Other Bills

Other bills the Governor signed into law include a measure helping Florida foster kids overcome obstacles to learning how to drive, a bill making it a separate crime to harm the fetus at any stage of development during an attack on a pregnant woman, and another seeking to compensate a man wrongfully convicted for killing his kids.

The Governor now has four bills awaiting his approval.

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.