TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Saying he can’t wait for the governor to act, a state lawmaker appointed his own task force Tuesday to scrutinize Florida’s “stand your ground” law after the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Gov. Rick Scott has announced plans for a state task force but wants to hold off until after an investigation into the Feb. 26 death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is concluded in central Florida.
Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said the killing is scaring off tourists and action is needed now. The neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, wasn’t arrested and said he acted in self defense when he shot Martin in a gated community in Sanford. No charges have been filed, and a special prosecutor is investigating.
The stand your ground law that was passed in 2005 allows the use of deadly force “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” and “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.” It eliminated the duty to retreat before using such force as required in a previous self-defense law.
Smith said his panel will include South Florida prosecutors, public defenders and legal scholars, who will consider whether that law should be changed or repealed.
“Florida is in a crisis mode,” Smith said at a news conference. “It’s time for leaders to lead, and it’s time for action.”
Smith’s panel will meet Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, where it will hear comments from judges, a tourism official and members of the public.
Smith, who voted against the “stand your ground” legislation, said he has appeared on national talk shows where callers have said they are reconsidering Florida vacations because of what they deemed the state’s “shoot first mentality.”
“The Florida brand is being portrayed in a negative light each and every day on all of the major networks,” Smith said.
Asked about Smith’s comment, Scott said everyone is concerned about Martin’s family.
“I think we have a great state,” the Republican governor added. “We had 85 million tourists” in 2011.
Scott said he remains committed to examining the law but only after the criminal investigation is completed.
“We should do it for public safety,” Scott said. “But the first thing you do is an investigation to make sure justice prevails. Then you step back and say ‘OK, so what did we learn from this?'”
Smith said the focus should be on the law itself rather than what happens to Zimmerman because it is continuing to be used in other cases.
He contrasted Scott’s approach to then-Gov. Lawton Chiles’ quick reaction to a spate of crimes against foreign tourists in 1993.
Chiles ordered Florida Highway Patrol troopers and other state law enforcement officers to provide around-the-clock security at highway rest stops after a British visitor was murdered at an unguarded facility near Tallahassee. The state then contracted private security guards.
Chiles also ordered the state to stop issuing telltale license tags beginning with an X or Y for rental cars that were helping criminals identify visitors.
“We have a governor who ran on getting to work, but he wants to wait to work,” Smith said. “His inaction is costing the state and our reputation.”
Smith’s task force includes State Attorney Mike Satz and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, both of Broward County, Miami-Dade County Public Defender Carlos Martinez, Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley, state Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, and Democratic ex-state Sen. Dan Gelber, a former prosecutor.
Although the panel has a Democratic and South Florida tilt, Smith said he’s hopeful Scott and leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature will be receptive to its recommendations because of the task force’s legal expertise. He denied that it was a partisan exercise, saying he was unaware of the party affiliation of many members, with some opposed to the law and others supportive.
Smith said the panel is not costing anything because his legislative aides are doing the staff work, the Broward County Library is providing free meeting space and a friend put together the panel’s website.
Associated Press writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Sen. Chris Smith’s “stand your ground” task force: http://www.floridastandyourground.org
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.