A bill to make minor tweaks to Floridas Stand Your Ground law made its way through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday, passing the committee with a unanimous vote.
SB 130, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would make several changes to the law, which caused a commotion last summer after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Simmons proposal would require law enforcement agencies to conduct a full investigation on whether there was lawful justification used by an aggressor to justify the use of force.
In addition, the bill also gives guidelines on the neighborhood watch program. According to the bill, one of the guidelines would prohibit a neighborhood crime watch patrol participant, while on patrol, from confronting or attempting to apprehend a person suspected of improper or unlawful activity, unless under circumstances in which a reasonable person would be permitted to or expected to assist another person.
Although the law was not used in the case, Floridas Stand Your Ground gathered national attention after Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Martin, sparking protests and calls to change the law.
Just last week, Rev. Al Sharpton led a group of protesters to the Florida Capitol to speak against the law, declaring Florida ground zero to fix or repair it. The Dream Defenders, the group of mostly college students who protested the law for 30 days in Tallahassee, also showed up to speak out against the law during the beginning of this years legislative session.
Mondays vote represented the first step toward compromise on the law since last summer when groups called for its total repeal.
Former president of the NRA and lobbyist for the group, Marion Hammer, and Stacy Scott who represented the Florida Public Defender Association, were also present at the meeting to show their support of the bill.
"There's nothing in the Stand Your Ground law that suggests the Supreme Court could interpret it to mean you lose your innocence until proven guilty when somebody attacks you," said Hammer on the law. "This law is about protecting innocent people who come under attack through no fault of their own and then are treated like criminals by the judicial system."
"Stand Your Ground is not to be used for vigilantism, for revenge or as an excuse to confront people," said Scott.
The bill will now head to the Senate Community Affairs Committee. Afterward, it will go to the Rules Committee for scheduling of Senate floor debate.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenes.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.