What Leader Chris Smith got right about the “warning shot” debate

0The debates over the so-called “warning shot” legislation in both the House and Senate have been impassioned and contentious rounds of sparring, revealing harsh divides between and within the parties.

The bills were an ideological mire for Democrats. And for Republicans, it was another opportunity to manipulate the very real and pressing imbalances created by SYG, which disproportionately affect minorities, to expand its reach and to permanently suffuse its pathology into our state’s institutional psyche. Through erasure,  this expansion of SYG seeks a permanent place in Florida Statutes. A law cannot be fixed (or done away with) if it can’t be deemed broken.

Heir apparent to the throne of Shalimar, noted grammarian, and successful public records attorney, Rep. Matt Gaetz, added language to HB 89 which would allow shooters, who successfully employ a “Stand Your Ground” defense, to have their court records sealed and names expunged.

To date, 70% of all attempted SYG defenses have been successful. Under this new provision, the data from hundreds of cases will be fragmentary and incomplete. Local reporting on isolated incidents,  pulled police reports, and whatever evidentiary shreds can be cobbled together are not accurate methods of measuring policy, nor should they be the only avenues available to us.

In last Thursday’s Senate debate over HB 89, Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith saw this maneuver for what it was: a strong-armed attempt to control the narrative over SYG for years to come. Smith’s proposed amendment was a stark contrast to House Minority Leader Perry Thurston’s tactics on the floor two weeks ago. A tightly focused rebuke to the Senate republicans, profoundly void of political maneuvering or posturing, it spoke directly to a flawed provision that continues a Floridian tradition of legislating for yesterday’s issues to the detriment of our future.

Is erasing the state record of lethal violence (in the name of self-defense) more diabolical than writing it into law? Statutes can be repealed and policies can reverse course — or be nudged towards more effective implementation. But if we obscure the path — when all of the waypoints towards sane policy are opaque and intentionally obfuscated — how can this state proffer the assurance that it’s governing by anything but raw ideology?

The Minority leadership in this legislature has a responsibility to challenge Republican efforts to maintain the status quo.  Raising the red flag on legislation that forestalls attempts by our communities to definitively see, and read, and learn about harmful policy will ensure that Democrats stay on the right side of history.

When Leader Thurston used his strike-all amendment for HB 89 to open a debate on SYG, we bore witness to a fractured caucus in disagreement with itself, unable to quantify the magnitude of the proposed changes. While Republicans teased out legal precedent word games and only-in-Florida “if X shot Y while aiming at Z accidentally” hypotheticals, the real damage had quietly slid through.

Numerous op-eds, containing strongly worded rebukes by open government and transparency groups, railed against the records provision of Gaetz’s amendment. Yet, these voices did not reach the House members in time, and the opportunity to raise a critical point was lost.

Do House Democrats see no problem with this putsch against open government? It doesn’t help that one Democratic member has no fewer than three bills flagged by the 1st Amendment Foundation as “bad bills.”  The movements against open records and transparency have reached a new height this session.   And while the shear numbers may not permit Democrats to block these efforts, going on the record against them will yield this caucus the high ground come fall.

We hope to see further cases of our Democratic leadership practicing deliberate opposition to a Majority that is very deliberately attempting to dismantle any meaningful discourse on public policy.

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