BY JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Surrounded by a group of police chiefs, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure dubbed the “backyard range” bill, intended to restrict the recreational discharge of a firearm in certain residential areas.
The proposal was one of nine that Scott signed into law Wednesday.
The backyard range measure (SB 130) prohibits the recreational discharge of a firearm outdoors, including for target shooting or celebratory shooting, in primarily residential areas with a density of one or more dwelling units per acre. A violation would be a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The bill, which goes into effect immediately, was backed by the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the National Rifle Association and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida.
St. Augustine Beach Police Chief Robert Hardwick said the legislation will ensure “residential areas are better protected from people using firearms irresponsibly and unlawfully.”
A Senate staff analysis of the bill pointed to reports about people constructing gun ranges in their backyards, with neighbors being concerned for safety. Law enforcement officials complained that they were hamstrung because their lawyers found the state statute barring “recklessly or negligently” discharging a firearm to be “subjective and vague.”
The “backyard range” issue received heightened attention in June 2014 when the Comedy Channel’s “Colbert Report” did a satirical piece on a Big Pine Key resident who legally set up a makeshift side-yard shooting range using a state law, created in 1987, regarding shooting on private property.
Minimum mandatory change
Scott also signed a measure (SB 228) Wednesday that would remove aggravated assault from a list of offenses that lead to people being sentenced under the 10-20-Life mandatory-minimum sentencing law. Scott said he signed the bill because it was supported by the law enforcement community and “made sense.”
A third bill (SB 158) signed Wednesday would allow people with lifetime fishing or hunting licenses, or boater-safety identification cards, to have a symbol added to their driver licenses displaying that lifetime status. The addition of the symbol, when a driver’s license is issued or renewed, would come with a $1 fee.
Other laws created
Other bills signed Wednesday (SB 182) would extend several public-records exemptions involving financial “trade secret” information, while a related proposal (SB 180) would make theft of trade-secret financial information a third-degree felony. Those laws go into effect on Oct. 1.
Four other measures signed by Scott Wednesday (SB 1030, SB 1032, SB 1038 and SB 1040) involve technical changes to state statutes. Scott may soon get to approve or veto two other measures, as follows:
The Florida House on Wednesday gave final approval to a proposal that would lead to increased oversight of professional guardians who manage the affairs of seniors. The House voted 115-2 to back the bill (SB 232), which earlier passed the Senate and is now ready to go to Scott.
Private professional guardians often serve wealthy people. Supporters of the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, say that professional guardians can take advantage of seniors.
Under the bill, the Statewide Public Guardianship Office at the Department of Elder Affairs would expand to become the Office of Public and Professional Guardians. It would establish standards for guardians, receive and investigate complaints and penalize guardians who breach the standards.
Sending the issue to the House, the Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill that would set time frames for testing DNA evidence in suspected sexual-assault cases.
The bill (SB 636), sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, came after reports last year that Florida has a backlog of thousands of untested “rape kits.”
Benacquisto’s bill, in part, would require law-enforcement agencies to submit rape kits for testing within 30 days of receiving the evidence. Testing would be required within 120 days of the submission of the kits.
The House version (HB 179), sponsored by Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, has made it through committees, readying the issue to go to the full House. If the House takes up and passes Benacquisto’s bill, the measure would then go to Scott.