“We’ll pause for a moment of silence and then this Congress will do nothing because the NRA has a stranglehold on it,” said Frankel, who has supported a variety of gun control measures in the House.
Frankel questioned how Devin Patrick Kelley was able to purchase a gun despite a background that reportedly included domestic violence and a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force.
“How did this fellow, with his background, get a gun? It doesn’t seem reasonable. We’ve got to strengthen the gun background checks,” said Frankel. “We’re not trying to take away everybody’s gun. But enough is enough.”
Congress returns from a two-month summer recess Tuesday and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy laid out his to-do list.
Among the items: Keep up the steady stream of criticism aimed at Republican rival Marco Rubio.
“This is probably Marco Rubio’s least favorite day of the year,” said the Jupiter Democrat, in his second term in the U.S. House. “He’s got to go back to the Senate — a place that he says he hates. A place where he doesn’t think he has enough power to solve problems.”
By contrast, Murphy said he is eager to move forward with the White House’s pitch to approve $1.9 billion in funding to fight the Zika virus, enact tougher gun restrictions, and steer more dollars toward easing the algae outbreak on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
Of course, all of these major issues have languished since lawmakers broke camp in July. And few signs of developing agreement, it’s possible Republicans and Democrats continue their deadlock past the November elections.
Rubio’s side revived their criticism of Murphy for having voted against Zika funding measures in the House — where Republicans have put a number of contentious proposals on the table.
Rubio in May joined with Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to introduce a $1.9 billion funding proposal that basically mirrored what the Obama administration sought. Rubio and several Florida Republicans also have urged their leadership to advance a deal to fight the outbreak.
But efforts have gone nowhere.
Olivia Perez-Cubas, a Rubio campaign spokeswoman, said Murphy is out to “exploit this public health and economic emergency.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson swept Wednesday through Florida’s Capitol, huddling with fellow Democrats and allied organizations and promising that better days are coming for the outnumbered caucus.
Taking a break from Washington’s partisan wars, Nelson’s visit to Tallahassee comes at a time when redistricted Senate boundaries appear to be playing a factor in slowing the advance of arch-conservative legislation from the House.
Nelson cited gun bills, and measures that would open the state to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” as signs that Republican leaders are willing to enact policies that appeal to narrow voting bases or contributors.
“At some point, this nonsense has got to stop,” Nelson told Senate Democrats.
But Senate Republican leaders have put the brakes on the gun measures and anti-immigration proposals, along with showing little appetite for some of the House’s other right-leaning measures. With senators running in districts where a majority supported President Obama in 2012, Nelson hinted that redistricting is already playing a role.
“Things are getting better, and reapportionment is part of it,” Nelson said. “Over the next couple of election cycles, you’re got see, you’re going to be in the majority.”
The Florida House is racing ahead with what some are calling a red meat menu of election-year bills aimed at luring Republican voters, but fellow GOP leaders in the Senate have emerged suddenly as a wall of resistance.
A reason: Many of these senators will be running for re-election this fall in newly redrawn districts, where Republicans no longer hold overwhelming dominance.
“I don’t think anyone is going to ignore the interests of their voters, especially in a new or modified district,” he said.
While both chambers of the Florida Legislature have been under the control of Republicans since 1996, the Florida House generally has been more conservative, with members representing smaller pockets of voters.
The most recent House district boundaries were approved by the Legislature in 2012 and didn’t undergo the intense, four years of court challenges that Senate boundaries faced.
Fueled by lobbying from the National Rifle Association this election year, the Republican-dominated House overwhelmed opposition from Democrats in advancing the legislation.
The measures, however, face long odds in the Senate. A key Miami Republican has refused to bring them up for a hearing, possibly derailing them this session.
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is the rare GOP lawmaker willing to openly buck the NRA.
Still, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, also head of the Florida Republican Party, dismissed critics who accused lawmakers of bowing to a powerful lobby.
Ingoglia said the campus carry bill (HB 4001) will make students safer.
“I have heard opponents of the bill say it’s all about a special interest and it is – our children and their right to protect themselves,” Ingoglia said.
He asked House members if their daughter was attacked on campus, would they feel better if she had “a phone in her hand, or a Smith & Wesson in her hand?”
The campus bill cleared the House 80-37. Eight states allow concealed weapons on campus while another 23 let university officials decide whether weapons can be carried.
The open carry proposal (CS/HB 163) was approved 80-38. It would make Florida the 46th state allowing people to walk the streets with handguns displayed – not tucked into a purse, under a jacket or in a pocket.
“I truly want to make it the right of Floridians to openly carry,” said Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, sponsor of the House measure. His father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is sponsoring the Senate version.
“This is not just a fix,” Rep. Gaetz said. “I have broader goals.”
Still, other supporters, including the NRA and Florida Carry, continued to cite examples of Floridians arrested under the current law – although they provided few specifics.
A case frequently cited involved Dale Norman of Fort Pierce, arrested in 2012 for what a Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling described as “ walking on the sidewalk with the firearm clearly visible on the outside of his clothing.”
But the ruling cited “no credible evidence” that Norman sought to properly conceal the weapon, defying the claim by gun advocates that he was subject to overzealous policing.
Norman’s conviction for violating the state’s concealed weapon’s law was upheld by the Fourth DCA.
Wasserman Schultz, a member of Congress from Weston, formerly served in the Florida Legislature. She said that although polls have shown most Floridians oppose the gun measures, they are drawing support in the Republican-led Legislature for a simple reason.
“Republicans who worship at the altar of the NRA are the real problem,” Wasserman Schultz said.
But the show of force by Democrats came even as a Miami Republican, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, said he would not schedule the campus carry bill in the Judiciary Committee he chairs, potentially killing it for this session.
Diaz de la Portilla said he has opposed the measure before and his “position hasn’t changed.”
The legislation (HB 4001, SB 68) would allow students with concealed weapons permits to keep guns on campus, barring Florida colleges and universities from maintaining current prohibitions.
Student and faculty representatives attended Thursday’s news conference to urge that the campus carry bill be shelved. University presidents and law enforcement officials also have spoken out against the legislation at earlier committee hearings on the measure.
The open-carry measure (HB 163, SB 300) would allow the more than 1.4 million Floridians with concealed weapons permits to walk the streets with handguns displayed – not tucked into a purse, under a jacket or in a pocket.
Like campus carry, that proposal also is eagerly sought by the NRA this election year. Unlike campus carry, the open-carry measure faces better odds this session.
Although 43 states now have varying degrees of open-carry laws, opponents have argued it would hurt Florida’s lucrative tourist industry, confuse law enforcement in tense situations and heighten the risk of violence for Floridians.
Supporters said it would enhance public safety.
Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, said the Legislature’s push for easing gun restrictions was “madness.” Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, said of the campus proposal, “There is not a need there to import…guns,” to college dormitories.