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Weekly Roundup: Florida ‘Constitutional Carry’ Teed Up

A controversial proposal filed this week would do away with Floridians having to go through “the hoops of getting a permit from the government” to carry concealed weapons.
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A controversial proposal filed this week would do away with Floridians having to go through “the hoops of getting a permit from the government” to carry concealed weapons.

The bill (HB 543), filed for the legislative session that will start March 7, would set up what supporters call “constitutional carry,” a reference to rights they say are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

“Central to the idea of freedom is the right that we can defend ourselves against physical attack, as well as defend those that we love,” House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said during a news conference announcing the legislation.

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“The Constitution did not give us those rights, the creator gave us those rights. But it does put it down on paper in the Second Amendment. And the courts have interpreted that to mean an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense,” Renner said.

The House measure received immediate backing from Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, signaling that it will be a priority of the Republican-dominated Legislature.

The 63-page proposal would wipe out the longstanding requirement of applying to the state for a concealed-weapons license and going through a process that includes passing a criminal background check and completing firearms training.

Under the bill, a person would need to “carry valid identification at all times when he or she is in actual possession of a concealed weapon or concealed firearm and must display such identification upon demand by a law enforcement officer.”

But Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns, in part, about the bill nixing the firearms-training requirement.

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“This is not constitutional carry, this is untrained carry. We have to be very clear and specific as to what the legislation actually does, and that is to remove the training requirement, and you will no longer have the check if you have something disqualifying you in your criminal record,” Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Democrat who was mayor of Parkland at the time of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, told reporters.

A House news release about the legislation said the proposal “does not affect laws relating to the purchase of a firearm and will not allow anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm to carry concealed.”

Democrats and groups such as Prevent Gun Violence Florida criticized the proposal as potentially making Floridians less safe. But a group of county sheriffs joined Renner at the news conference to support the bill.

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis, who is president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said officers “see incidents everyday” where armed, law-abiding citizens “protect themselves in all sorts of different scenarios.”

Rep. Chuck Brannan, a Macclenny Republican who is a sponsor of the measure, also pointed to key restrictions on gun purchasing that would be kept in place.

“This bill is a big step to help the average law-abiding citizen to keep from having to go through the hoops of getting a permit from the government to carry their weapons. It is also not going to change who can and cannot carry a gun — people who are prohibited now will still be prohibited,” Brannan said.

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Eyeing wide-ranging tax breaks, DeSantis this week rolled out a $114.8 billion proposed budget for next year that he called the “framework for freedom.”

The proposal includes an additional $200 million to continue efforts to raise teacher salaries, bringing the total potential amount to $1 billion. DeSantis also is pitching $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration and water-quality issues, while state workers would see a 5 percent pay increase.

“I think it is going to meet the needs of the people of Florida. It’s only possible because we have been a state that’s been able to thrive over these last few years, and we are going to continue those policies going forward,” DeSantis said as he announced the proposal Wednesday.

The governor also is asking that lawmakers give the go-ahead to $1.5 billion in tax cuts. For example, everyday household goods and items purchased for infants, children and pets would be part of the tax-break plan.

But as the governor touted proposed spending increases in various areas, the Florida Education Association teachers union criticized the proposal, saying the additional $200 million for teacher pay would translate to about a $20 a week increase for each teacher.

“An approximately $20 per week increase will do little for many teachers who are struggling, like so many Floridians, with rent that has doubled under this governor, homeowners insurance that has doubled under this governor, health care costs, which have shot up under this governor, and other increased expenses,” union President Andrew Spar said in a prepared statement.

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A familiar name in Florida political and education circles, Richard Corcoran, re-entered the fray this week as he is poised to take over as interim president of New College of Florida. Corcoran will replace President Patricia Okker, who was ousted Tuesday by the small liberal-arts school’s revamped Board of Trustees.

The moves came after DeSantis last month appointed six conservative board members, leading to heavy speculation that the governor was angling to remake the leadership and direction of the school.

Corcoran, a former Republican House speaker, also led high-profile initiatives for DeSantis while serving as education commissioner. Corcoran spearheaded an effort to weed out critical race theory — which is based on the premise that racism is embedded in American society — from Florida classrooms.

Part of the governor’s budget proposal also appears to be geared toward getting new blood onto the New College faculty. DeSantis wants lawmakers to earmark $15 million in next year’s budget for recruiting and retaining new faculty members at New College, with $10 million recurring each year.

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