TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After a similar measure died on the Senate floor nearly a year ago, the odds continued to improve Thursday for an NRA-supported measure that would allow more people to carry concealed weapons during emergency evacuations.
The Senate Rules Committee voted 8-2 to back the reloaded measure (SB 290), which would allow legal gun owners to carry guns without concealed-weapons licenses during the first 48 hours after emergency evacuation orders are given.
The vote, which included support from three senators who questioned last year's proposal, was the final committee stop before the bill goes to the entire Senate.
"I think we'll be fine," said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who made an impassioned but futile effort in the waning days of the 2014 session to advance a similar measure.
Last year's bill didn't include the 48-hour evacuation time frame or other new language. The changes were made at the request of the Florida Sheriffs Association, which now supports the proposal.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, noted that the current proposal "sounds suspiciously like the amendment I offered, Sen. Darren Soto and I offered, on the floor" in 2014.
Latvala, Soto, D-Orlando, and Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, backed the bill Thursday after being among those who questioned the 2014 bill due to the law-enforcement opposition.
"They didn't want a bunch of people running around being vigilantes shooting people up," Montford said of law enforcement.
Brandes said the bill simply allows people who own guns without concealed-carry licenses to maintain possession of their weapons from the time they leave home until they reach evacuation destinations.
"As long as they're running away from the vigilante groups they would be fine, but if they're running with them they won't be covered by this law," Brandes said.
Opponents continued to express concerns that the bill would increase the number of weapons that could be on the road while law enforcement is distracted during a declared disaster.
Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, voted against the measure.
The House companion (HB 493) has cleared two committees with votes of 9-2 and 17-1.