Florida Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, says the state doesn't have time to wait for a task force to be named to review the Stand Your Ground law. So he’s starting his own local investigation into the law he says is now hurting Florida’s reputation.
But Gov. Rick Scott said the state needs to complete the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the Feb. 26 death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford that has thrust the 2005 law into the national spotlight.
“The first thing we should do is the investigation, make sure justice prevails, and then you step back and say, ‘what did we learn from this?’” Scott told reporters outside the Capitol on Tuesday.
Asked if Smith’s Democratic-dominated task force, which meets for the first time Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, would have credibility, Scott simply said, “We’re doing the right thing.”
Scott announced March 22 that Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will head a task force to conduct public hearings on Stand Your Ground. The task force awaits appointments from the House speaker and Senate president.
Smith's task force is scheduled to meet April 5 in Fort Lauderdale at the Broward County Library.
Members of his group, including Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderly, Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz and U.S. Attorney Dan Gelber, all Democrats, in addition to law school professors and a travel expert, are expected to discuss if the law should be amended or abolished. They will also explore the impact the law and media coverage is having on the state's image.
Smith, during a media appearance at the Florida Press Center Tuesday, said he hasn’t invited participants based upon their party affiliation. But he acknowledged that in South Florida there are more Democrats than Republicans.
“This isn’t a rally,” Smith said. “These are all lawyers who have all dealt with this situation before, have dealt with this law and the ramifications of this law.”
Smith added the state needs to act quickly because potential visitors have expressed fear of coming to Florida because of the law that the national media have portrayed as allowing people to shoot first and ask questions later.
“Florida is in a crisis mode. We have a big problem in Florida today and it’s time for leaders to lead and a time for action,” Smith said.
“The Florida brand is being portrayed in a negative light each and every day on all of the major networks,” Smith said. “As I’ve appeared on different talk shows around the country, I’ve received numerous people calling into these talk shows, from Washington, D.C., to Chicago to L.A., saying I’m reconsidering coming to Florida.”
The reason, he said, was the perception that one could easily be shot based upon the Stand Your Ground law, also known as the Castle Doctrine, which states a person has no duty to retreat when threatened. More than 30 states have a similar law on the books.
Smith pointed to how Gov. Lawton Chiles sought to change the perception that tourists were being hunted after eight foreign visitors, four from Germany, were killed in South Florida within a one-year period. At the same time, a British tourist was killed on I-10.
The deaths drew the German foreign ministry to issue a travel advisory urging its citizens to avoid picking up rental cars at Miami International Airport, while British tabloids issued tips on "How to Survive in the Florida Jungle."
Chiles issued an executive order so that rental cars no longer had to be identified with an ‘X’ or ‘Y’ on the license plate, and called for state troopers to man highway rest stops.
“We can’t wait to act as Floridians,” Smith said of the current tourism impact. “When German tourists were killed, we acted as a state. We nipped it in the bud to let people know that Florida is a safe state.”
Smith also plans a website -- FloridaStandYourGround.org -- where people can chime in on the law. The Web address was not operational Tuesday.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.