TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's Republican-controlled House is expected on Thursday to keep intact the state's contentious "stand your ground" law that has sparked protests in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
The House has scheduled a vote on a Democratic-backed measure that would repeal the 8-year-old law that allows the use of deadly force if someone believes their life is in jeopardy.
The move by the House is unusual since the Legislature doesn't often spend time on legislation that has little chance of passage.
But Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford agreed to have a hearing on the self-defense law following protests that occurred this summer at the Capitol. A group of young people upset with the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Martin's death spent weeks demanding that Gov. Rick Scott call a special session to repeal the law.
Instead of a special session, opponents of the law will get a five-hour hearing on the state's gun laws.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach and chairman of the committee that will hold the hearing, has already said he will does not support changing the "stand your ground" law.
"I've got to believe that putting criminals on notice that Floridians won't be hapless victims anymore has certainly helped improve safety in our state," Gaetz said.
But Gaetz said he wanted to give those opposed to the existing law a platform to debate their ideas.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston sharply criticized the idea of holding a hearing to simply reject the legislation (HB 4003).
Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said that instead of having the drama of opponents and supporters argue in a hearing that legislators should be working to tweak the existing law.
A compromise measure that makes small changes to the "stand your ground" law is already moving in the Florida Senate.
Gaetz said he is open to changes to the "stand your ground" law that are meaningful and don't take away the ability of Floridians to defend themselves.
But he criticized the Senate bill — which is backed by top Republicans and Democrats in that chamber — and called it an "exercise of style over substance." Gaetz said Thurston is now calling for small changes because he realizes that even Democrats are divided over whether to support a full-blown repeal of the law. Gaetz contended that a majority of Floridians support keeping the law intact.
"The people of Florida believe we ought to have robust self-defense laws," Gaetz said.