Six bills backed by NRA made law

Among the legislation signed by the governor, information on who holds concealed weapons permits is no longer public.

Published June 7, 2006

TALLAHASSEE — Neighbors, co-workers and anyone else who might be interested can no longer find who carries a concealed weapon under a bill Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law Wednesday along with five other initiatives of the National Rifle Association.

Names, addresses and other identifying information of concealed weapon permit holders are now exempt from the state’s public records law.

“I think the right to privacy in this case outweighs the right of the public to know,” Bush said.

Advocates cited a case in which an Orlando television station posted a list of concealed weapons permits on its Web site.

“This is exactly the same information that everybody is screaming and yelling about now that has been breached with regard to veterans and service men and women,” said Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist. But gun safety and open record advocates alike were appalled at the law that goes into effect July 1.

“This exemption more than any other exemption passed this session really makes a mockery of the constitutional right of access,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, an organization supported by newspapers including the St. Petersburg Times. Law enforcement would still have access to the concealed weapons permit list and information could be released by court order.

Petersen said a law already exists that provides a way for people who feel threatened or harassed to have private information withheld from public view.

“People have a right to know who’s carrying a gun so they can make a decision whether they want to be around someone,” said Arthur Hayhoe of Wesley Chapel, director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “The NRA says we the people do not have that right.”

The concealed weapons bill was one of six NRA initiatives Bush approved Wednesday. Shops that sell hunting and fishing licenses, including Wal-Mart, are now required to offer customers voter registration applications that they could take home and submit later. The law went into effect immediately, although it will take time for businesses and election offices to get the system in place.

Also effective immediately is a new law that strips Bush and future governors of the authority to order the confiscation of firearms during hurricanes, as was done during Katrina.

Another NRA-backed measure allows firearms in national forests and state parks. That law will go into effect October 1.

Yet the NRA’s biggest and most controversial push of the year died before reaching the governor. A bill seeking to penalize businesses that prohibit employees from having guns on company grounds, in their locked cars in the parking lot, never passed the Legislature. The battle split the Republican-controlled Legislature between two traditional GOP allies; business groups and the gun lobby.

“I’m disappointed,” Hammer said Wednesday. “But you can’t be too disappointed when six out of seven bills pass.”
Asked if she would be back next year to fight for the seventh, she replied a resounding, “Oh, yes.”

Bush also signed legislation that would partially repeal a 2003 law that paved the way for the largest telephone rate increases in state history. Under the new law Bush signed Wednesday, telephone companies can no longer raise rates as much as 20 percent without asking the state’s permission.

Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.