Dane Eagle: Former Charlie Crist Staffer Pushing Military Funeral Protest Ban, Justice Reforms
Around the State
Birthplace: Cape Coral
Residence: Cape Coral
Education: University of Florida, Bachelor of Arts in Economics
Occupation: Real estate broker
Previous Public Office: None
Did you know? Participates in "CrossFit Games," fitness competitions that incorporate a combination of exercises -- e.g., bodyweight training, carrying heavy objects, climbing rope, flipping tires jumping rope, rowing, sprinting, and weightlifting."
Cape Coral's newest legislator is being hailed in many quarters as one of the Florida GOP's rising stars, not surprising given how far he's already come at just 29 years of age.
“Never in my entire life did I expect to ever run for public office, or even to get involved in politics,” freshman Rep. Dane Eagle tells Sunshine State News. “It kinda just happened after college: I fell in love with being able to help people every day, and being able to make a difference in society and in my home area.”
An unexpected admission from a man who, at age 24, was appointed deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist, in which position (the youngest ever to hold it) he helped manage the state's executive branch and served as his boss's liaison with the Florida Legislature.
But while Crist eventually apostatized from the GOP when he perceived the political winds were no longer blowing in his favor within that party, Eagle stayed faithful, though he insists he never thought he'd return to Tallahassee after Crist's term concluded.
“I basically turned my back on politics; I thought I was done with it. I wanted to move back home, be with family, work in the family business,” he explains. “But after I got home I realized how bad the economy had taken off in my hometown. I saw family, friends, and neighbors just struggling to keep their jobs and hold on to their homes. I knew that with my passion, my work experience, and my hard work ethic I could do something to help. That's what inspired me to run.”
Having handily won last year's August primary and November general election, Eagle wasted no time filing legislation that aligned with his priorities, at least one of which is sure to turn the heads of some of the state's civil libertarians.
HB 185 (“Funerals, Burials, and Memorial Services”) effectively bans the staging of protests at the funerals of military service members, emergency response workers, elected officials, and minors by prohibiting demonstrations within 500 feet of such ceremonies.
The bill defines "protest activities" as "any action that is undertaken to disrupt or disturb a funeral, burial, or memorial service." Violation of the statute would constitute a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. (Florida law already makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to "willfully interrupt or disturb any lawful assembly.")
The bill is similar to Rep. Patrick Rooney's HB 15 (“Protest Activities”), except that Rooney's proposal applies to all funerals, not just those of a certain class of citizens.
Both measures are inspired by the activities of a Kansas sect, the Westboro Baptist Church, whose pastor, disbarred attorney and Democratic political activist Fred Phelps, regularly stages protests at the funerals of military servicemen and other prominent victims of tragedy. One of their most infamous slogans is “God Hates Fags.”
Saying his bill is intended “to allow these families to grieve in peace,” Eagle tells SSN he's working with Rooney to make sure either of their competing measures passes. A military funeral protest ban failed in the Senate last year, amid concerns that the special treatment it gave to certain funerals ran afoul of the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits governments from regulating speech for content-based reasons.
“That's going to be for the courts to decide,” he says, when asked if he's concerned the bill won't pass constitutional muster. “It's up to us in the House to make sure that we at least just come to an agreement with the Senate so we have something for the governor to sign. We're not too caught up in the language; that's up to the courts.”
HB 399 (“Florida College System Institution Police Officers”) would enable state colleges to enter into “mutual aid agreements” with local sheriff and municipal police departments in order to keep campuses safe. The bill is being co-sponsored by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, a sign that it has the support of Speaker Will Weatherford.
Subcommittee chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has also selected Eagle to be the principal advocate for HB 7035 (“Pretrial Release”), a committee bill that gives judges discretion to deny bond to repeat violent offenders.
"This is something that just gives judges the tools they need to keep our communities safer,” Eagle says.
Finally, his HB 785 (“Restitution for Juvenile Offenses”) would make parents or guardians strictly liable for damages inflicted by their minor children or wards who commit crimes. Under current Florida law, parents are exempt from liability if a court finds that they have acted diligently and in good faith to prevent their children from committing delinquent acts.
“I think what my bill does is very fair,” he says, explaining that he was inspired to file it after being contacted by a constituent who was unable to recover compensation from a juvenile who burglarized her home. “Parents should be responsible for their children and no victim should be stuck with the bill in these types of cases.”
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (954) 235-9116.