If politics makes strange bedfellows, then the state Senate's latest run at Florida's deplorable "stand your ground" law offers — in a good way — a textbook example.
On Monday, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee debated a bipartisan bill to mitigate some of the more egregious parts of the self-defense law. Local police, for example, would have to instruct community crime-watch groups on operating guidelines. Aggressors who invoke self-defense would no longer be immune from prosecution. In addition, police would have to probe fully self-defense claims.
Senators unanimously embraced reforms that would, at least, improve a law better off scrapped, by clarifying fuzzy language and injecting other measures of needed sanity. Nothing unusual about that. Two other Senate committees have backed the compromise bill — even as a House companion bill has collected dust since August.
What was strange was the eclectic bedfellows that consummated hell-frozen-over alliances in backing the Senate thumbs up.
Bedfellows like Sens. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat and a vociferous critic of "stand your ground," and David Simmons, the Altamonte Springs Republican who drafted the 2005 law. Now, Simmons smartly is pushing modest changes suggested by a state task force convened two years ago in the wake of the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. And for good measure, Simmons' plan includes clarifying language about use of force by aggressors and crime watch reform from Smith's bill SB 122.
And these bedfellows: U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, another steadfast "stand your ground" detractor, and former National Rifle Association President Marion Hammer, who vigorously lobbied for the original law.
As Hammer told the News Service of Florida: "You cannot fix everything the first time. When you try to do too much is when you create problems. We're taking it one step at a time. … And if we didn't get it right, we'll fix it. ..."
From her lips to House members' ears. While this bill deserves to pass, and deserves support from the House, some lawmakers have circled the wagons and famously punctuated bull-headed objections to potentially life-saving tweaks with colorful battle cries.
Yet, if this year's measure passes the Senate, Simmons believes the House will give it a fair shot.
We'll believe it when we see it.
As Smith rightly argues, "It will be an absolute travesty if this [session] ends and this Legislature does nothing to send a message on 'stand your ground.'"
If strange bedfellows can see the wisdom of at least tweaking a flawed shoot-first law, we hope that House members can see their way clear of Rep. Matt Gaetz's reckless refusal to change not even "one damn comma."Copyright © 2015, CT Now