A Senate panel took the first step toward amending the “stand your ground” self-defense law Tuesday, approving a bill that would revamp neighborhood watch programs.
The proposal, sponsored by Sens. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, won bipartisan support on the Senate Judiciary Committee. It also received nods from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the state public defenders association and the NAACP.
“We definitely support a bipartisan fix” to “stand your ground,” NAACP general counsel Kim Keenan said.
Despite the early success in the Senate, it was too soon to tell if a similar proposal would win support in the lower chamber.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, the House point person on “stand your ground,” has said he opposes any changes to change the law. And the revisions offered by Simmons and Smith were unlikely to change his mind, he said Tuesday.
“I don’t think there’s much in that bill,” the Fort Walton Beach Republican said.
The 2005 “stand your ground” law removed a citizen’s “duty to retreat” in most public confrontations. It sparked intense public debate in 2012, when Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager from Miami Gardens. Zimmerman was acquitted earlier this year.
The bill considered Tuesday — a combination of two separate proposals by Simmons and Smith — would require guidelines and training protocol for neighborhood watch programs.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said there was no debate “about whether or not there needs to be some standards.”
There was, however, debate over who should establish the guidelines.
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