Florida Politics

Senate gun bill goes straight to House floor Tuesday — after zero consideration

The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.
The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Miami Herald

UPDATE: House Republicans quietly agreed Tuesday afternoon to pull SB 616 from floor consideration after trading with Democrats to ensure a priority of the Senate president — also not previously vetted by the House — would be voted out that same day. Full details here.

TALLAHASSEE In an extremely rare move, House leaders are rushing a gun bill that none of their members have considered to the floor during the final week of session.

Lawmakers in the House will take up SB 616 on Tuesday — a Senate-approved proposal that would allow concealed weapons permit-holders to store their guns with security while visiting state courthouses.

The Rules & Policy Committee, chaired by future House speaker and Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, put the bill on the daily floor calendar after senators passed it on Friday.

And at least one House member late Monday already sought to use the bill as a vehicle for other changes in Florida’s gun laws.

Because SB 616 did not have a House companion, it’s brand new to lawmakers in that chamber, and they won’t have a chance to first vet it in a policy committee.

MORE: “Visitors’ guns could be secured in Florida courthouses”

The scheduling move is highly unusual and also deprives members of the public a chance to address their representatives at a public meeting before the floor vote.

Typically when a bill passes one chamber, the presiding officer of the other chamber assigns it to a few committees. That ensures a proposal is vetted in both chambers and is considered in some fashion — with the public allowed to have input — before a bill gets to the floor, particularly if it lacks a companion.

House leaders skipped that step with SB 616, sending it straight to the floor at their first chance and in time for it to be approved and sent to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk before session ends on Friday.

When SB 616 is heard Tuesday, House members will have a chance to ask questions and amend the bill. A vote is likely on Wednesday after floor debate, and the bill could pass effortlessly.

The Republican-led House has many conservative members who support Second Amendment rights. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House, 79-41, so Democrats have almost no power to stop the bill.

Messages from the Herald/Times seeking comment Monday evening from Oliva, House Rules vice chairman Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, and Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, were not returned.

Steube sponsored SB 616, which passed the Senate just on Friday by a 19-15 vote — with the chamber’s Democratic caucus opposed.

When the House Rules committee — whose main function is to set the daily floor calendar — met for less than three minutes earlier Monday evening to release the schedule for Tuesday, members did not discuss the day’s agenda, including why SB 616 was being brought immediately to the floor.

Fred Piccolo, spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told the Herald/Times in an email that one House rule allows the speaker to take up a Senate-approved bill at any time on the floor, and with only a few days left in session, another rule says no more House bills can be taken up on the floor if they aren’t yet teed up for a final vote.

Steube last week expressed optimism that the House would take up his bill before session ended. However, the way the House is going about it is likely to draw a backlash from Democrats and gun-control advocates.

An amendment was filed late Monday to expand the scope of Steube’s bill, and more would not be unexpected before Tuesday’s floor consideration.

The proposed change comes from Polk County Republican Rep. Neil Combee who wants to tack on an unrelated gun measure he pushed this year, which de-criminalizes open-carrying for the first and second offenses. Combee’s original bill (HB 779) passed the House a month ago, but Steube’s companion version of it didn’t have the votes to pass his Senate Judiciary committee and was never heard.

If Combee’s amendment is successful — and SB 616 passes the House — it could put Steube’s proposal at risk back in the Senate.

MORE: “Miami lawmaker’s leadership and ‘gun-bill fatigue’ disarm Legislature”

The first week of session, Steube promised not to support an expansion of his courthouse bill in ways that would include other changes in gun law.

“My intention is to keep this specifically directed toward courthouses,” Steube had said in March when SB 616 was in its first committee. The pledge was a condition of getting Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores’ crucial support to advance the bill.

The House and Senate have to pass identical bills before a new law can be sent to the governor for his approval.

SB 616 — which would expand the rights of the 1.7 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida — is the only one of 10 gun-related bills Steube filed this year that got any traction.

Steube is a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights and campaigned heavily on the topic. His other proposals — many of them controversial because they called for the elimination of “gun-free zones” — did not have the votes to pass the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Flores and Hialeah Republican Sen. René García, who is also on Judiciary, would not back Steube’s more extreme proposals.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark