Rick Scott Archives - Page 4 of 258 - Florida Politics

Ray Rodrigues: ‘We believe we will win’ suit over medical marijuana smoking ban

The sponsor of a bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment said he is confident the state would prevail if sued over the proposal’s smoking ban.

“We believe we will win that lawsuit,” said House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who sponsored the House’s version of the medical marijuana implementing bill during both the regular and special session this year. “We’re proceeding ahead as if the bill we passed is going to be the way the bill is implemented.”

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved an implementing bill during the special session, which ended Friday. The measure, which Gov. Rick Scott has said he will sign, allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full-strength medical marijuana. Under the bill, edibles and vaping is allowed, but smoking is banned.

“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” said the Estero Republican. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”

That ban has drawn the ire of John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who helped draft the constitutional amendment and bankrolled the 2014 and 2016 campaigns, and other medical marijuana advocates.  Morgan has said once Scott signs the bill he plans to sue over the smoking ban, saying the 71 percent of Floridians who voted for the amendment expected smoking to be a way to consume it.

“I don’t know why they would object to anyone on their death bed wanting to use what they wanted to relieve pain and suffering,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press last week. “If they were really concerned about smoking, why don’t they heavily tax cigarettes?”

Morgan said he plans to file the suit in Leon County, and has enlisted John Mills, a constitutional law expert and the dean emeritus of the University of Florida’ Levin School of Law, to help in the upcoming legal battle.

“I know John Morgan believes he wrote (the amendment so) that it would include smoking. We’ll see what the courts say about that,” said Rodrigues. “We had our legal staff review it first, and it’s very clear where he enumerates in the amendment this was illegal and now this is legal. He did not include smoking in this section, and smoking is illegal today. The section where it enumerated where medical marijuana would be legal does not include that.”

Legislation to implement the 2016 constitutional amendment fell apart on the final day of the regular 2017 Legislative Session after the Senate pushed for retail caps for growers. While medical marijuana wasn’t included in the initial special session call, it was added on Wednesday afternoon — the first day of the three-day of the special session.

Rodrigues said leadership had been in discussions since the end of the regular session about how to work out differences, and finally reached an agreement late Tuesday.

The final bill caps the number of retail locations growers can have at 25 locations across the state. However, the measure allows each grower to open five more locations for every new 100,000 patients in the state’s medical marijuana use registry. The limit on retail locations expires in 2020, a provision that was important for House members, said Rodrigues.

Another important provision was making medical marijuana tax exempt. Rodrigues said that was something House leaders said they wanted to do from the beginning, and something that they were able to get in to the final bill.

Rodrigues said he expects legislation to be filed each session to try to tinker with the state’s medical marijuana program, but said there’s only one way there will be a total overhaul of the system

“I only see one instance where what we’ve implemented is blown up.  We make it clear this is an implementing bill for Amendment 2. Should there be a future amendment for how marijuana is treated in Florida, our amendment is clear … this implementing bill sunsets and an entirely new implementing bill must be devised,” he said. “That’s the only way I see it blowing up, and given how polling numbers have been on recreational marijuana, below 50 percent for years, I don’t’ see that happening anytime soon.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Rick Scott mum on Jeff Sessions testimony being bad for GOP brand

In Jacksonville, Florida Gov. Rick Scott took questions from local media, including some on the interesting role of being a diehard Donald Trump supporter at a time when his administration careens from scandal to scandal, and Senate hearing to Senate hearing — with embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions taking the stand today.

We asked Scott, who just formed a “New Republican PAC” this year, straight up: are the issues with the Trump Administration, including today’s Sessions testimony, bad for the brand?

“I set up the Super PAC New Republican, and it’s focused on how do we rebrand the Republican Party. The Republican Party ought to be the party of open government, choice, bottom up economy, things like that,” Scott said.

“Younger voters should be voting Republican. We should target everybody, because they believe what we believe in. People want a job –“

Noticing that the answer veered off the original question, regarding Sessions and former FBI director James Comey‘s testimony last week, we redirected: are the issues with the Trump Administration interfering with the larger GOP brand?

“What I always talk about is all the success we’ve had in the state,” Scott said.

And that was it.

Gov. Scott clearly plays the long game — especially with a partner in the White House, as he likes to say.

Still, when given an opportunity to defend the Trump Administration in its time of need, he reverted to talking points — which  invite the listener to read between the lines.

If Rick Scott can’t offer an affirmative defense of the Trump Administration right now, who can?

Local legislators laud Rick Scott in Jax Beach

Florida Gov. Rick Scott found his way to Jacksonville Beach Tuesday — his fifth stop of the day — to take a victory lap after a session where he ended up getting what he wanted.

And by his side: Reps. Cord ByrdJason Fischer, and Travis Cummings — three State Reps. he pilloried as the State House panned his economic incentive programs during the Regular Session.

As the pre-release statement said: “This tour will highlight an all-time high of K-12 per-pupil spending, the establishment of the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, full funding for VISIT FLORIDA, and $50 million to kick-start repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee. Governor Scott fought for these important priorities all year.”

At previous stops, Scott was extolled as a “passionate warrior” by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the leader of the legislative body that stymied Gov. Scott’s priorities for months. He also said he was still mulling the controversial education bill HB 7069 — which held as true during his last stop of the day as it did during his first

In Jacksonville Beach, it was worth watching to see how many of those who bucked Gov. Scott on incentives came home.

Scott’s remarks were brief. “Jobs,” said Scott, allowed for “record funding” for K-12 spending per pupil.

Visit Florida and the Florida Job Growth Fund: likewise extolled, the latter as a “different program that’s going to work,” with both infrastructure building and training employees as outcomes.

And the Dike?

When there’s a “good economy,” said Scott, we can “take care of the environment.”

And with President Trump’s commitment, the “jumpstart” money is just an initial investment.

The real unique value-add: the State Reps who had to let go of the acrimony from the Governor’s Office from weeks and months past.

Cord Byrd discussed the transformational education bill.

Jason Fischer quipped that “the Governor signed most of the budget into law.”

And Travis Cummings?

“The Governor vetoed a project or two of mine, but that’s OK,” Cummings said, given the need for tourist funding via Visit Florida — a remarkable shift in position.

One of those projects was big for Jacksonville: $15M in money for septic tank removal that didn’t make the cut.

We asked Cummings about the anomaly of being feted by a Governor who just months back aimed robocalls at him.

“Politics is a strange business,” Cummings said.

Amid continued calls to veto HB 7069, Rick Scott says he is still ‘reviewing it’

Gov. Rick Scott isn’t showing his cards when it comes to a wide-sweeping and contentious education bill, despite rumblings he could sign the measure as early as this week.

The Naples Republican said he is still reviewing the bill (HB 7069), which, among other things, creates a “Schools of Hope” charter school program backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. However, many people believe Scott will sign the bill in return for Corcoran’s support of his priorities, including full funding of Visit Florida and money for an economic development fund, during a special session which ended last week.

“We all want school choice, we want to make sure our kids are going to good schools,” said Scott, when asked by reporters about continued calls for him to veto the bill during a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday. “I know the Speaker is very passionate about it and it was something that was very important to him. I’m reviewing it, and I’ll do the best thing for the citizens of the state.”

The governor’s comments came as two state lawmakers sent letters to Scott urging him to veto the legislation. Rep. Ben Diamond and Sen. Gary Farmer, both Democrats, both called on Scott to veto the bill, telling the governor if signed it will divert money away from traditional public schools to charter schools.

The bill, among other things, extends the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program; reduces state testing, and requires test results be provided to parents and teachers in a timely fashion; expands eligibility for the Gardiner Scholarship Program; and requires 20 minutes of recess each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The bill also requires school districts share capital project tax revenue with charter schools, which Corcoran argued is one of the reasons why some school district officials have come out in opposition to the bill.

“What they’re really crying over is their bricks and mortar money,” said the Land O’Lakes Republican following a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday. “The problem with bricks and mortar is they’re building $40 million Taj Mahals up and down the state, 67 counties (building) the most expensive buildings they can build. What we’re saying is focus on beautiful mind, not beautiful buildings. It doesn’t matter what the buildings look like, what matters is having that money follow the student and having that student have a world class education.”

But opponents aren’t just concerned about the capital outlay portion. In a statement, Diamond said the bill will “divert significant resources away from our traditional public schools for the benefit of charter schools, many of which are run by out-of-state, for profit corporations.”

“The bill includes little oversight or accountability for these charter schools, which would receive a significant investment of taxpayer money. The bill also makes it harder for our school districts to retain our best teachers,” said Diamond.

Corcoran said “every single penny” in the bill goes to public schools, and called outrage over the “Schools of Hope” component misplaced.

“The real outrage shouldn’t be that we’re funding ‘Schools of Hope,’ it should be that we’re the third largest state and the richest country in the world and we have failure factories. Some of our students, from the time they enter school to the time they graduate, spend their entire educational career in a failure factory. That’s where the outrage should be,” said Corcoran. “We’ve come in and said ‘enough is enough.’ We’re going to create ‘Schools of Hope,’ where those children are able to be afforded a world class education just like every other child in the state of Florida. That is transformative and that’s beneficial.”

Scott and Corcoran were in Fort Myers on Tuesday as part of a five-city “Fighting for Florida’s Future Victory Tour.” The one-day swing was meant to highlight the successes of the special session, which ended Friday.

The event at the Sun Harvest Citrus retail store and package facility struck a much different tone than a “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour Scott embarked on in May. While Scott used that trip to hint at vetoes and take swipes at lawmakers over their decision to slash funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, this swing has been a chance for Scott and Corcoran to mend fences and show a unified front.

“The speaker is passionate about what he believes in and you know what I believe in,” said Scott. “We worked hard to get something done, and we had a very good session and a very good special session.”

Corcoran called the governor is “a passionate warrior,” and he looks forward to another session of working together.

“The neat thing about this is the two of us have another session together,” said Corcoran. “I can assure you, we’re looking forward to coming back next session with another bold agenda that’s transformative and continues on this great path the governor has led us on.”

Did Republican state and national leaders mail in their Pulse appearances?

In one of the more biting moments in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” mathematician Gerald Lambeau, played by Stellan Skarsgård, apologizes to his old friend, psychologist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, for having missed the funeral of Sean’s wife.

“I got your card,” Sean snapped, not at all disguising his anger.

Did we just see state and national Republicans mail in [or tweet in] their condolences and best wishes for Orlando’s one-year observation of the Pulse mass-murder that killed 49 and tore out the heart of a community?

Orlando is increasingly becoming a Democratic stronghold, but plenty of Republicans still thrive in Central Florida, and plenty get elected, and the area is worth fighting for. The local GOP contingent was well represented, by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, several county and city commissioners, several state lawmakers and others. But, except for Democrats U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings and Darren Soto, who all spoke at one event or another event, none of the state and national political leaders made much of an appearance at Orlando’s Pulse activities.

There’s a real chance state and national Republican leaders weren’t asked to come, discouraged to come, or just knew that their appearances would be, at best, awkward. There has been widespread criticism that too many of them just never fully acknowledged the pain in Orlando was both about a terrorist attack and about the biggest hate crime against gays in American history.

And Monday’s commemorations all were intimate, mostly involving only those public figures who had been there with Orlando throughout.

Some Republicans tried to do something.

Gov. Rick Scott was the lone state or national leader who came to Orlando, but it was a stealth appearance, not announced in advance, and apparently without any remarks. He stopped for a private breakfast at the Orlando Police Department headquarters, and then for an unannounced brief visit to the Pulse nightclub Monday morning, essentially a photo-op. He did not attend any of the major events, and he did not let anyone know he was stopping by Pulse, not even Pulse owner Barbara Poma.

Marco Rubio took to the floor of the Senate Monday evening and made an emotional Pulse speech, full of very personal observations, and acknowledgment that, whatever else the tragedy was, it also was an attack on Orlando’s gay community.

“Obviously the attack was personal for the 49 families with stories of their own and of course the countless others who were injured. I know it was personal to the LGBT community in Central Florida,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “As I said Pulse was a well-known cornerstone of the community, particularly for younger people. And as I said earlier This was deeply personal for Floridians and the people of central Florida, and I’ll get to that in a moment because I’m extraordinarily proud of that community.”

And he and Nelson introduced a resolution Monday in the Senate to commemorate Pulse.

Murphy, Demings, and Soto also introduced a Pulse remembrance resolution in the House of Representatives, and also spoke on the floor Monday. And all three found time to speak in Orlando, to Orlandoans, first.

Unlike Nelson, Murphy, Soto or Demings, Rubio was nowhere to be seen in Orlando during the observations that began at 1 a.m. and ended at midnight Monday.

Others in state and national GOP mailed or tweeted it in, and continued to miss the point that Orlando sees the tragedy both as a terrorist attack AND a hate crime against gays.

President Donald Trump did not come, nor did he send any White House or Cabinet delegates or surrogates to Orlando. He did not make any proclamations, though he did tweet, including a picture montage of the 49 murder victims.

“We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting. #OrlandoUnitedDay.” Trump announced on Twitter Monday.

Rubio also sent his tweets — three of them.

“One year later, we honor 49 of our fellow Americans of @pulseorlando and continue to pray for their families.” Rubio tweeted, and “The #PulseNightClub tragedy was rooted in a hateful ideology that has no place in our world. #OrlandoStrong,” and The #PulseShooting was an attack on the LGBT community, Florida, America, and our very way of life. #OrlandoUnitedDay”

U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey and Daniel Webster, who each have districts that are not quite Orlando but close enough to include Orlando suburbs and many who were deeply affected by Pulse, did not make any Orlando appearances.

DeSantis put out a statement, and Webster mentioned Pulse in a Facebook post. Both focused on terrorism, a true angle to the tragedy, but one that continues to divide along partisan lines, as neither made any mention of the attack being on Orlando gays.

“The massacre at the Pulse nightclub represented the face of evil in the modern world. Fueled by a putrid ideology, the terrorist indiscriminately killed dozens of innocent people, forever devastating their families and loved ones. Orlando rallied in response to the attack in a remarkable fashion. It is incumbent on our society to root out radical Islamic terrorism from within our midst,” DeSantis wrote.

“Today, we remember the 49 innocent lives tragically lost due to a horrific act of terror in Orlando one year ago. Our prayers continue to be with the surviving victims, loved ones and all those affected,” Webster wrote on Facebook.

Scott also signed a proclamation on Friday, declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, surprising some in Orlando with his clear acknowledgment — lacking in some previous statements — that Orlando’s LGBTQ community had suffered mightily and needed acceptance.

Other Republicans followed the same pattern of DeSantis and Webster, ignoring the LGBTQ hate crime angle.

Attorney General Pam Bondi tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“Today we honor those lost in the #Pulse attack & the citizens & first responders who ran toward danger to save lives.” Bondi tweeted.

Agricultural Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam both put out a statement, and tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“On the anniversary of the Pulse attack, we pause to remember the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken, their loved ones who continue to mourn and heal, and the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for their fellow Floridians without hesitation,” Putnam wrote. “We also remember how Orlando, the Central Florida community and the entire state came together amidst such tragedy. People stood in lines for hours to donate blood, generously gave their time and money to total strangers and worked together to meet the needs of all those impacted. This anniversary is not just a solemn milestone to remember those we tragically lost, but it’s also a reminder of the strength, courage and compassion of the people of Florida.

“My prayers to all family, friends & loved ones of the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken one year ago today,” Putnam tweeted. And then, “And to the 1st responders in Orlando who put their own lives in danger to help others in need, TY for your strength, courage & compassion.”

CFO Jeff Atwater says he will leave June 30

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is leaving his job at the end of the month.

Atwater on Monday turned in his formal resignation letter to Gov. Rick Scott. Atwater announced back in February that he planned to step down from his elected post to take a position at Florida Atlantic University.

In his letter, Atwater says his last day in office will be June 30.

Scott will be responsible for picking someone to replace Atwater for the next 18 months. Voters in 2018 will elect a new chief financial officer.

Florida’s chief financial officer is elected statewide and is a member of the state Cabinet that oversees several key agencies. The chief financial officer plays a key role in helping regulate the financial and insurance industries and also functions as the state’s treasurer.

 Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

On Pulse anniversary, Equality Florida calls Rick Scott to ban LGBTQ discrimination statewide

In a statement proclaiming Monday as “Pulse Remembrance Day,” Gov. Rick Scott  described the Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 people a year ago as “an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community.”

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the leading advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Florida, is “glad” Scott acknowledges the killings were a direct attack on the gay community, specifically the Latino gay community.

But Smith believes the governor could go even further — by signing an executive order to include sexual orientation and gender identity in an anti-discrimination measure.

“We want to make sure that is in addition to, and not a substitute for, the real work of making sure that discrimination is not acceptable in the state of Florida, and he can do that with an executive order and a stroke of a pen,” Smith said at a Ybor City news conference Monday morning.

Also at the event were Congresswoman Kathy Castor and GaYBOR District co-founder Carrie West. 

“We hope he does that, and we hope any candidate running for office that invokes the name of Pulse has the courage to name the victims and make clear their stance, not in platitudes, but in real promises,” Smith added.

That last comment referred to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a leading Republican candidate for governor next year. On Sunday, Putnam issued a statement that neglected to mention that many of those of those killed last year in what was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history were gay and/or Latino.

Just a week after the shootings last year, Equality Florida called on Scott to take executive action to protect people from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. Although many local governments include the LGBTQ community in their own human rights ordinances (including St. Petersburg, Tampa, Miami and a host of others), the state of Florida does not include sexual orientation and/or gender identity in its statewide laws.

The Florida Legislature once again opted not to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act this spring, the bill that would sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of groups that cannot be discriminated against. That’s despite the fact that the bill had its most momentum ever going into a session with 36 different co-sponsors, including Republicans like Dana Young, Chris Latvala and Joe Gruters.

The FBI declared the Pulse nightclub shooting an act of terror — but not a hate crime — despite the shooter targeting a gay club during Latin night.

“This was a hate crime, but the federal government did not follow through and designate it as a hate crime,” Castor said. “The march toward equal rights and civil rights in America has been steady, but sometimes it’s been slow.”

“Hate was clearly at the center of it,” Smith said, a reference to how the father of killer Omar Mateen had openly spoken about his disgust for gay people.

While the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage two summers ago was a wonderful achievement, Smith said there is still much work to be done “in the face of a rather ugly backlash” with the LGBTQ community.

“Everybody can stop that joke being told at the dinner table, they can intervene when they see street harassment, they can speak up in their workplace and ask ‘do we have policies that make it clear that everybody is going to be respected and treated equally?'” Smith asked rhetorically.

Just hours after the shooting, Equality Florida set up a GoFundMe page for the victims and their families. They took in $9.5 million before merging with the OneOrlando Fund, which ultimately raised more than $31 million.

In August, the organization also set up its new two-month “Safe & Health Schools Project.” That program is designed to provide all Florida school districts with resources necessary to support and affirm LGBTQ students.

Castor and Smith both said that Pulse victims need to be honored with action (the name of a hashtag campaign that Equality Florida has created which calls for people to commit to direct actions to honor the victims).

And Castor said that there’s a lot of work to be done, referring specifically to President Donald Trump‘s selection of Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation staffer.

Severino has argued that same-sex marriage threatens religious liberty and that civil rights protections should not extend to transgender patients.

Castor also said that Congress continues to refuse to support ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has failed to gather support back in the 1990s.

“As we remember our neighbors who lost their lives at the Pulse nightclub, it’s very important to honor them with action, and all of us can join together tonight in Ybor and come together but then demand that policymakers across the country really do action on equal rights for everyone,” Castor said, referring to an event commemorating the event scheduled to take place at Ybor’s Centennial Park at 7 p.m.

John Morgan plans lawsuit to allow for smoking of medical pot

The Florida Legislature’s passage of a bill to enact the state’s constitutional amendment expanding the use of medical marijuana has ended one chapter in the battle over setting up regulations for the nascent industry. But pro-pot supporters say it doesn’t go far enough.

Once Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill, the principal backer of getting the amendment on last year’s ballot said he intends to sue over the law’s ban on smoking. John Morgan has been steadfast in saying that the 71 percent who voted for the amendment expected smoking as one of the ways to consume cannabis.

“I don’t know why they would object to anyone on their death bed wanting to use what they wanted to relieve pain and suffering,” Morgan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Friday night. “If they were really concerned about smoking, why don’t they heavily tax cigarettes?”

Morgan said he plans to file the suit in Leon County and has enlisted constitutional law expert Jon L. Mills, the dean emeritus of the University of Florida’s Levin School of Law, to help in the coming legal battle.

Senate Democrats made a last-ditch attempt to get smoking added, citing that nearly 90 percent of people who use it smoke it, but it was voted down.

The legislation passed Friday allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full-strength medical marijuana.

The bill sponsors in both chambers have said there aren’t any scientific studies to show that smoking pot is more effective than other ways of ingesting the drug.

State Sen. Rob Bradley said during Special Session that if he spent his time responding to Morgan’s statements and tweets “then I’d be a congressman dealing with Trump.”

Rep. Ray Rodrigues said that “If he wants to sue us, that it is his prerogative. I am confident it can be defended in front of a judge.”

Vaping is allowed in the bill, but Rodrigues and Bradley could repeatedly not answer what the difference is between smoking and vaping.

Morgan, nonetheless, said he was pleased to see the Legislature pass a bill, instead of the rules-making process being left solely up to the Department of Health. But he said that in the end, the bill came down to special interests and not patients.

“At the very end we saw what most of the Legislature was about which was profits and not patient care or access,” he said.

Morgan though did laud House Speaker Richard Corcoran for advocating for a special session and for negotiating to craft a deal. Morgan called Corcoran the real winner of the session and said he will hold a fund-raiser for Corcoran next week in Orlando.

Besides smoking, one or more of the seven currently licensed distributing organizations could challenge the caps of 25 retail dispensary locations per licensee. The caps are due to sunset in 2020 and more can be added per 100,000 patients added to the medical marijuana registry.

According to the Department of Health, the state registry now has 16,614 patients. A recent state revenue impact study projects that by 2022 there will be 472,000 medical cannabis patients and $542 million in sales.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida law shifts burden of proof in ‘stand your ground’

Florida became the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground” hearings when Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday.

The measure was among 16 bills that Scott signed, including a bill that gives students and school employees a broader right to express their religious viewpoint in schools.

The “stand your ground” bill was fought by prosecutors who say it will make their job more difficult to convict people who commit acts of violence and claim self-defense.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that defendants have to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution on charges for a violent act.

That led Republicans to seek to shift that burden. They argued that it protects a defendant’s constitutional right that presumes they are innocent until proven guilty. But opponents said it will embolden people to shoot to kill, and then claim self-defense knowing that the only witness against them can no longer testify.

Only four of the other 21 states with “stand your ground” laws mention burden of proof – Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina – and all place it on defendants.

Many states have long invoked “the castle doctrine,” allowing people to use deadly force to defend themselves in their own homes.

Florida changed that in 2005, so that even outside a home, a person has no duty to retreat and can “stand his or her ground” anywhere they are legally allowed to be. Other states followed suit, and “stand your ground” defenses became much more common in pre-trial immunity hearings and during trials.

The 2012 killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman opened a debate about the limits of self-defense, and it hasn’t let up since Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder after jurors received instructions on Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Supreme Court sends Bessman Okafor sentence back, Rick Scott reassigns it from Aramis Ayala

The Florida Supreme Court has remanded another murder case death penalty from Orlando, that of Bessman Okafor, and Gov. Rick Scott quickly reassigned it away from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

The move came with swift intervention from state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, who asked the governor to keep the case from going back to Ayala, who has vowed to not prosecute death penalties. The governor concurred, reassigning it to neighboring State Attorney Brad King in the 5th Judicial Circuit, as he has done with 23 previous first-degree murder cases in the past three months.

“I am grateful,” said Cortes, a Republican who has been a stern critic of Ayala’s declaration and how she arrived at her decision.

Okafor’s murder conviction stands, according to the Supreme Court. The court threw out his death penalty and ordered another penalty phase trial.

He was convicted of murdering a witness who was expected to testify at Okafor’s upcoming armed robbery trial, and of trying to murder two others, who survived being shot, in 2012. However, during the penalty phase of his 2015 trial, the jury voted 11-1 to sentence Okafor to death. That was good enough for the legal standard of 2015, but that standard was thrown out in 2016, and Florida now requires a unanimous jury vote for a death sentence.

On Thursday the Supreme Court decided on the appeal of Okafor’s sentence, and sent it back to the 9th Judicial Circuit for a new sentencing phase.

Cortes then urged the governor to reassign it, declaring in a letter his “distrust that this case will not be given the attention it requires and deserves.” Scott then redirected it to King, using the same assertion he used for 23 other murder cases that have been diverted from Ayala.

“The unequivocal statements of State Attorney Aramis D. Ayala raise grave concerns regarding her silliness to abide by and uphold the uniform application of the laws of the state of Florida, and the ends of justice will be best served by the assignment of another state attorney to discharge the duties of State Attorney Aramis D. Ayala with respect to the investigation, prosecution, and all matters related to Bessman Okafor,” Scott wrote in his order.

Ayala expressed satisfaction that the court remanded the case, and no surprise at Scott’s executive order.

“I am very pleased that Bessman Okafor’s conviction for his horrific crimes was upheld today by the Supreme Court of Florida,” she said in a written statement. “Florida’s High Court was tasked with attempting to resolve the chaos surrounding Florida’s death penalty statute after being stricken down by the United States Supreme Court early last year. I am not surprised by the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling nor the Governors’ hasty reaction.”

That order, and Ayala’s authority to refuse the death penalty, will soon also be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

Ayala filed in the Supreme Court in April to assert that she has full authority to refuse to prosecute death penalties under prosecutorial discretion, and that Scott does not have the authority to reassign cases from her just because he disagrees with her. Scott answered that Ayala overstepped her authority and her blanket refusal is a violation of her legal duties, and that he has the power to intervene when a state attorney is breaking the law.

The Supreme Court has received a dozen arguments from Ayala, Scott, and friends of the court, and has set oral arguments for June 28.

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