AG Moody moves to block proposed amendment that could ban assault weapons
August’s arrival means getting the kiddies ready for school, and the state’s helping out with a sometimes-annual sales tax “holiday” on clothes, supplies and electronics needed for classrooms and campus halls.
The activity in the Sunshine State this week wasn’t just focused on back-to-school matters, however.
Lawmakers began filing bills for the upcoming 2020 legislative session. Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees declared a public health emergency, as hepatitis A cases continued to mount. And the courts continued to weigh in on the Legislature’s actions from previous years.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Monday dismissed a long-running legal battle about the handling of mismatched ballot signatures. The decision came a month after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a sweeping elections measure (SB 7066) that included a provision intended to resolve disputes about verifying signatures on vote-by-mail and provisional ballots.
In a split decision Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned a Leon County circuit court judge’s ruling that tossed a 2015 law requiring women to wait 24 hours before having abortions. The decision sends the lawsuit back to the circuit court. The case could become a barometer for abortion-related legal issues in Florida, particularly after changes early this year on the Florida Supreme Court.
Outside of the courtroom, President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday announced a plan intended to make it easier for states like Florida to bring in prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.
And DeSantis spent a couple of days in Orlando to catch the Major League Soccer’s All-Star game and Universal’s unveiling of plans for a new 750-acre theme park and resort, called Epic Universe, which is expected to eventually add 14,000 jobs to the company’s Orlando portfolio.
Meanwhile, Florida’s attorney general kept busy brandishing her pro-gun creds.
LOCKED AND LOADED
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s trying to keep a proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to prevent possession of assault weapons off the ballot next year.
In a court filing late Friday, Moody called the ballot language, proposed by the Ban Assault Weapons NOW political committee, “clearly and conclusively defective.”
In part, Moody focused on a section of the proposed constitutional amendment that would define assault weapons as “any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun capable of holding more than ten (10) rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device.”
The proposed amendment would “ban the possession of virtually every semi-automatic long-gun,” Moody wrote.
But Gail Schwartz, who chairs the Ban Assault Weapons NOW committee, disputed Moody’s arguments.
“This bipartisan ballot measure has been vetted extensively by legal experts and is supported by hundreds of thousands of Floridians across the state,” Schwartz said in a statement Monday.
The possibility of banning of assault weapons has long been controversial in Florida, but it gained renewed attention last year after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people, including Schwartz’s nephew, Alex Schachter. State lawmakers have repeatedly rejected calls to ban the weapons, including after the Parkland school shooting.
Meanwhile, Moody on Tuesday took aim at a Leon County Circuit judge’s ruling that struck down a 2011 state law threatening tough penalties for local officials and governments that approve their own gun regulations.
Moody notified the court that the state would appeal the decision, despite objections from local officials who challenged the law.
Under the law, local officials could face fines of up to $5,000 and be removed from office for violating a 1987 statute that prevents local governments from imposing gun rules that counter state law.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state’s top Democrat, called her fellow Cabinet member’s appeal “not only a waste of taxpayer money and time, but the wrong direction for our state.”
“Our state shouldn’t threaten local elected mayors and council members with fines, lawsuits, and removal from office,” Fried, whose office handles concealed-weapons licensing in the state, said in a prepared statement. “We should restore local democracy and allow communities to consider common-sense local measures that reflect their values.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Lake County commissioners may have prevented a potential headache for DeSantis, when they voted 3-2 Tuesday to back the local historical society’s plan to display a bronze statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.
The statue needs a new home, as it is being replaced in the National Statuary Hall by a likeness of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune.
The Lake County Historical Society and Museum in Tavares has agreed to provide a temporary landing spot for the statue, which has represented the state in the U.S. Capitol since 1922. The Florida Department of State considers the location a long-term loan.
The decision to accept the statue — amid a national movement to remove Confederate memorials from public squares — hasn’t drawn widespread support from the community.
Eight mayors from Lake County municipalities recently asked DeSantis to block the move.
But Lake County Commission Chairwoman Leslie Campione said she felt “sorry” for people who view the planned relocation of the Smith statue to their community as “indicative of current day racism.” She dismissed such allegations, while noting the national political divide is “coming down to Lake County.”
“It is important to preserve statues and monuments which tell the story of where we’ve come from and where we are today, even if those artifacts invoke strong emotions,” Campione said.
Voting against the plan, Commissioner Wendy Breeden said she’d prefer the statue be displayed in Tallahassee or one of the national cemeteries in the state.
“This is not good for Lake County, it’s not good for business, it’s not good for our image, it’s bad for economic development,” Breeden said. “If it didn’t come it wouldn’t hurt anyone, except maybe the feelings of a few who would really like to have it here.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: In a victory for Republican state leaders and abortion opponents, a split appeals court Thursday overturned a circuit judge’s decision that tossed out a 2015 law requiring women to wait 24 hours before having abortions.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“Maybe the president thinks he is helping with tariffs and trade wars, but, as they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and his agenda has been a path to perdition for Florida farmers.” — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.