A Senate panel took the first step toward amending the Stand Your Ground self-defense law on Tuesday, approving a bill that would revamp neighborhood watch programs.

The proposal, sponsored by Sens. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, won bipartisan support on the Senate Judiciary Committee. It also received nods from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the state public defenders association and the NAACP.

The bill would require sheriffs and city police departments to set guidelines for “neighborhood watch” programs like Zimmerman’s and to restrict members to observing and reporting suspected crimes.
“After what happened in Sanford we want to send a message to neighborhood watch programs … about what is acceptable behavior,” Smith said.As recommended by Scott’s task force, the bill would also prohibit people who are the “aggressors” in confrontations from then claiming “stand your ground” immunity.And it would specify that law enforcement must conduct a full investigation in shootings even if the law is claimed as a defense — a change spurred by the Sanford police claim that it couldn’t do so in the Zimmerman case.

Critics of the law say the fixes so far don’t do enough.

Smith wants a broader definition of “aggressors” and for the state to track use of the law statewide to get better data than the anecdotal cases collected so far.

The bill also doesn’t clarify ambiguity in the current law that says “stand your ground” immunity doesn’t apply to those engaged in “unlawful activity.” That’s been defined as broadly as being an illegal immigrant, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said the bill should address this issue.

“We’re here today because we disagree, but we’re not afraid to discuss,” Smith told the panel. “I support what we’re doing today because I think it’s important to the state of Florida.”


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  • On the bright side it’s a start

  • Me

    Gotta admit. I thought Florida was too racist to get this far. A little glimmer of hope just twinkled in my heart.

  • As a former resident of Florida about to return to my home state this warms my heart a little. I fear for all brown people in my home state as well as other states (like Oklahoma) where I currently reside. It may not be the whole package, but it is a start. And a start is better than just ignoring the issue. The greatest changes did not occur overnight, they took some time. Racism in this nation is far from dead, but we have to take a stand each and every day to try and make some change. We may not see it in our lifetimes, but we have to think of the generations to come. I only hope Florida will continue to work on this issue so that one day children like my daughter can grow up knowing that they have some sort of legal recourse to prevent violent acts and/or get the justice they deserve.

  • Shaking my head.