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Gun Bill, Public Speaking Measure Reach Rick Scott

June 17, 2013 - 6:00pm

All of the bills approved by the state Legislature this year have now gone to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

Included in the final two batches of mostly technical measures is a bill (SB 50) to ensure the public is given time to speak at government meetings and a gun proposal (HB 1355) that has grown more controversial since the end of session.

Nearly 300 bills were approved by the House and Senate this year. The Senate sent its final 13 measures to the governor on Friday, while the House dropped its final 42 on Scott's desk on Monday.

Scott has until June 29 to act on the Senate bills and July 2 for the House legislation.

The gun measure would block firearms purchases by some people who voluntarily admit themselves for mental-health treatment.

Backed by the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida, the bill moved through the session with little uproar. But, the measure could end up a test of Scott's conservative credentials, as veto requests from throughout the state continue to flood Scott's "Sunburst" email inbox.

"We the people have had enough of big government trying to take away our rights and freedoms under the 'sham' of safety," wrote Bay County resident Sylvia Sullivan on Friday. "You can't judge millions by the actions of few."

The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, and in the Senate by Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, closes a legal gap, as state law already bars firearms purchases by people who are involuntarily committed under the Baker Act.

The measure was the only effort to increase restrictions on gun purchases that moved in the Legislature this year. The bill was approved without opposition in the Senate, while Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, cast the only voted against the measure in the House.

Crafted in the weeks after a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a man killed 20 first-graders and six adults, the bill focuses on people who are found to be an "imminent danger" and face the possibility of being involuntarily committed if they do not admit themselves.

However, with prodding by groups such as the "Gun Owners of America," many of the emailers to Scott claim the law brings the state closer to gun confiscation. And the complaints about the bill have grown in the past couple of weeks with opponents connecting the measure to the suspension of rural Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch.

"I voted for you as a friend of the Second Amendment," emailed Ken Sorensen of Palm Beach County. "I urge you to end (this) crusade against pro-gun sheriffs like Nicholas Finch and insist you stand up for my right to keep-and-bear arms by vetoing HB 1355 -- the 'mentally ill' labeling scam."

On June 4, Scott suspended Finch, who was accused in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation of destroying or removing official documents to make it appear as though a concealed-firearm arrest never occurred.

The suspension came after Finch, 50, was charged with official misconduct, a third-degree felony.

As for speaking at public hearings, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, pushed for the requirement, having noted during session there is no explicit right for those in attendance to speak at meetings of bodies such as city councils, county commissions, school boards and taxing districts.

The bill, however, doesn't mandate specific operating procedures in ensuring the public has a reasonable opportunity to speak. I do not wish to pass down more rules telling local governments how to conduct their business, Negron said in a release after the bill was approved by the Senate on March 19.

The measure also has exemptions for quasi-judicial meetings, and allows time and decorum restrictions.

Other measures that Scott will have to address after he returns from his week-long aviation-focused trade mission to the Paris Air Show include changes (SB 1388) in how instructional materials are chosen for K-12 public education.

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