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Campus-carry bill lined up for a House vote

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal that would allow gun owners with concealed-weapons licenses to hang onto their handguns while on state university and college campuses is ready to go to the House floor.

However, the fate of the measure, which is opposed by university-system and campus leaders, continues to reside in the Senate.

The House Judiciary Committee, in a 13-5 vote Thursday, approved the measure (HB 4001) by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. It would allow the state's 1.45 million concealed-weapon permit holders to carry guns while out of their vehicles on state campuses.

The Judiciary Committee was the final stop for the bill before it goes to the House floor during the 2016 session, which starts in January.

"It's not about outsourcing campus police," said Steube, who pursued similar legislation that reached the House floor in the spring and has also filed legislation (HB 4031) that would expand concealed-carry rights to legislative meetings and career centers.

"It's about Greg Steube and other people that have served admirably and have a conceal-carry permit to be able to defend themselves and others," Steube continued. "That's what it's about, and no one can tell me I don't have the training to do that."

Asked about the status of an identical campus-carry measure (SB 68) in the Senate, Steube said after the meeting that he's focused on his bill.

"Hopefully the Senate will at least allow a hearing for the bill in the Judiciary (Committee in the Senate)," Steube added.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has said no decision has been made about whether to bring up the campus-carry bill in that chamber.

A similar measure died during the 2015 session after not getting through the Judiciary Committee. At the time, Diaz de la Portilla said he decided to scuttle the measure after polling members of the Senate and finding a lack of support for the bill, which is backed by gun-rights groups.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, said in an email Thursday that the decision remains with Diaz de la Portilla.

The fate of the House version has been less in doubt and is also sponsored by Tallahassee Democrat Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda.

Still, the measure brought passions on both sides Thursday.

Angelo Canevari, a University of Florida student and member of the National Guard, told the House Judiciary Committee he feel less safe in class in Gainesville than when deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2010.

"The fact that people would disarm somebody who is trained and responsible enough to carry a gun in public everyday, but when they cross the campus line, some kind of imaginary line, all of a sudden they're not anymore, that just blows my mind," Canevari told the committee.

But Lake Worth Rep. Dave Kerner, one of five Democrats on the committee who opposed the bill, disputed that the measure is intended to correct an infringement on Second Amendment rights, as supporters have claimed.

"On this policy issue, it's very clear that nobody wants this save for some very passionate students that have come before us," Kerner said. "There is no groundswell of support for this bill. We've had people that rarely stick their neck out, in positions of high authority come out against this bill and this policy. And I think that we should be humble enough to defer to them."