AFRICANGLOBE – Lawmakers won’t be back at florida’s Capitol for a session until March after all.
Republicans have returned enough “no” votes in a poll of legislators to quash the idea of a special session to address the state’s self-defense laws. That poll was triggered late Monday, after 33 Democratic lawmakers formally requested that the Department of State find out whether enough lawmakers supported calling a special session.
Supporters needed a three-fifths majority of the Legislature, or 96 votes, to force a special session opposed by Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders. By Wednesday evening, they had just 37 votes, and opponents had 83 – a majority of the Legislature and more than enough to prevent a session.
Only one Democrat, Rep. Mike Clelland of Lake Mary, had voted against the session.
The defeat of the special session to address the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law was expected. Changing that law is one of the main demands of the Dream Defenders, a group of protesters whose around-the-clock sit-in at the Capitol stretched to a 30th day, with no apparent end in sight.
Dems Began Effort
The Florida Secretary of State’s office began polling members of the Legislature to find out if there was enough support to hold a special session. Vastly outnumbered Democrats had a week to convince enough Republicans lawmakers to support the special session.
House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, announced late Monday that Democrats had gathered the 32 written requests necessary to trigger a poll of lawmakers.
“I commend those members who have joined me in my request for a special session,” Thurston said in a statement issued by his office. “While the House speaker has indicated that the Legislature may hold a hearing later this year on certain policies, including Stand Your Ground, I strongly believe that a special session is the best way to justly address the concerns of our constituents.”
Legislators were sent a poll from the state agency that they would have until 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 19, to sign and return. The proposal is an effort to circumvent the opposition to a special session by Scott and Republican legislative leaders.
The process, allowed in state statutes, had never been used before to call a special session.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has directed a subcommittee to hold a hearing on the law this fall, said Monday that he hoped both sides would accept the results.
“Once this poll concludes, the question of a special session will be final,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said in an email. “I trust our protesters will accept the results and return the Capitol back to normal business. It’s time.”
Weatherford tweeted what amounted to a declaration of victory Wednesday afternoon and implicitly called for the protesters to leave.
“FL supports self defense laws,” he wrote. “We’re spending way too much on protest security.”
The answer from the demonstrators Wednesday was the same as it has been before:
They don’t plan to go anywhere.
Dream Defender Steven Pargett said they have no intention of leaving after the rejection of a special session on one aspect of what they call Trayvon’s Law. The protesters’ proposed legislation also seeks to end zero-tolerance school discipline policies and supports initiatives meant to combat racial profiling.
“We’re not leaving on account of the poll,” Pargett said. “What’s interesting is now we can see the elected officials are on the record because of the poll.”
The group began its demonstration in Scott’s office after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. While Zimmerman’s defense team did not use the “Stand Your Ground” law, which grants legal immunity to people who use deadly force if they reasonably believe their lives are in danger, Martin’s death drew nationwide attention to the policy.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement estimated that overtime for Capitol police has reached $149,998.30 since July 15, the day before the protests began. FDLE said 40 protesters were on hand Tuesday night, but at least 10 claimed to be demonstrating against climate change.
Four Hours of Noise
Intentionally or not, state officials were scheduled to put one more barrier in the way of the protests Wednesday night, planning a required check of the Capitol’s fire-alarm system from 8 p.m. to midnight.
“This testing will include the constant ringing of a loud, high pitch fire alarm throughout multiple floors of the Florida Capitol Building,” said a flyer being used by the Department of Management Services to warn protesters about the fire alarm.
Meanwhile, civil rights activist Julian Bond, who has served as chairman of the NAACP and president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, was set to become the latest nationally known supporter to visit the protesters with a visit Thursday.
Prior celebrity supporters have included rapper Talib Kweli, activist Jesse Jackson and singer, actor and civil-rights icon Harry Belafonte.
GOP Resistance to Ending “Stand Your Ground”
Most Republicans have resisted changing the law. While Weatherford announced a hearing on the self-defense law, House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has vowed not to change “one damn comma.”
Meanwhile, in a sign of the resistance to changing the law in Florida, three Republicans signed on to a letter slamming U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for asking corporate sponsors of a conservative organization whether they support the law. Some liberals blame the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, for the spread of “Stand Your Ground” laws across the nation.
“The contents of your letter are eerily similar to the questions asked by the Internal Revenue Service of other citizen groups the IRS deemed as politically conservative,” the letter says. “Questions such as the individual donors, purposes of organizational events and contents of meetings are clearly a violation of the First and Tenth Amendments and the general jurisdiction of a federal office holder.”
The letter was signed by state Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, and Sens. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. In all, ALEC said, “nearly 300 state legislators” from across the country signed the letter.