New Fla. gun law has local officials scrambling
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Local officials across Florida are scrambling to repeal gun control ordinances, including bans on firearms in parks, buildings and other public places, before a new state law goes into effect.
The new state law requires governments at the local level to follow state gun laws, which are generally less restrictive. The new law is one of 29 that become effective Saturday.
The laws will make it more difficult for girls seeking abortions to get waivers from the state's parental notification requirement, limit medical malpractice lawsuits, outlaw sex with animals and reduce "sexting" penalties for minors.
The gun law has caused consternation in city halls and county boardrooms.
"We can restrict having clubs, flame throwers and hand grenades, but when it comes to firearms, we can't restrict them," said Kraig Conn, legislative counsel for the Florida League of Cities.
The law imposes what Conn called "Draconian penalties" for violating a 1987 statute that pre-empted local gun and ammunition control ordinances in favor of state laws that are less restrictive in most cases.
"It merely says you have to follow the law and if you don't follow the law there are consequences," said the law's sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.
The National Rifle Association pushed for the new legislation, saying cities and counties were ignoring the pre-emption law because it had no penalties.
City and county officials could be fined up to $5,000 if they failed to repeal a pre-empted gun ordinance or try to enforce it. They also won't be able to use taxpayer funds to defend themselves or pay the fines. Violators also could be fired or removed from office by the governor.
Individuals and groups such as NRA could sue to challenge local laws. If they win, they could collect attorney fees and damages up to $100,000 from cities and counties.
Openly carrying firearms already is banned by state law, so pre-empted ordinances in most cases affected guns carried by more than a million Floridians who have concealed weapons permits.
State law also already bans concealed weapons from schools, courthouses, and the Florida Capitol and local government buildings when the bodies are meeting.
Conn said there still are some questions about exactly what is pre-empted but most jurisdictions are repealing ordinances if there's any doubt.
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio had been poised to test the law through an executive order banning guns in city hall, but changed her mind. Instead, she has ordered police to escort armed visitors in the building.
The most restrictive local laws tend to be in the more urbanized areas.
"One size doesn't fit all when it comes to our counties," said Cragin Mosteller, spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Counties.
Gaetz said the pre-emption law was designed to prevent gun owners from becoming criminals simply be crossing a city or county line.
Local officials have discussed possible legal action against the new law.
Conn acknowledged the Legislature can pre-empt local laws, but he said the idea of personally fining or removing public officials is another matter.
He said the new law marks the first time he knows of that the common law principle of "legislative immunity" has been pierced. It ordinarily protects officials from being penalized for their votes as members of a legislative body such as a city council.
The new abortion law will require judges to consider a minor's maturity in deciding whether she can be excused from the state's parental notification requirement.
It also limits girls to filing requests for waivers in the court circuits in which she lives. Previously, minors could seek waivers in any circuit within her appellate court district, which is a larger area.
The medical malpractice law will require out-of-state doctors to get a state certificate before they can testify as expert witnesses. They then could face discipline, including the loss of their certificate, if they offer what's found to be "deceptive or fraudulent" testimony.
The new law also offers immunity from lawsuits to doctors who volunteer to help high school and college sports teams.
It took years, but lawmakers this spring finally passed a law against bestiality. Anyone convicted of sexual contact with an animal now can face up to a year in jail.
The new sexting law decriminalizes the act of minors electronically sending explicit photos of themselves for a first offense. Under existing law, they could be convicted of child pornography and labeled as a sex offender.
A second offense, though, would be a misdemeanor and a third, a felony.
Other new laws will make it a crime to knowingly possess a stolen credit card and increase the liability verdicts state and local governments can pay without the Legislature's approval from $100,000 to $200,000 per person and from $200,000 to $300,000 per incident.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)