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Florida House committee endorses weapons-at-work bill
The measure, now limited to permit holders, gains support from House panel Republicans.
By Alex Leary, Times Staff Writer
Published March 13, 2008
TALLAHASSEE - The National Rifle Association isn't giving up.
After failing for two years to pass a law allowing employees to carry guns to work, the NRA won an early victory in the Florida House on Wednesday.
Last year the measure died before a House committee -just days after the Virginia Tech shootings and in the face of intense business opposition. But Wednesday the same committee voted, 11-6, on a revised bill limiting the right to people with concealed weapons permits.
"The Constitution begins, 'We the people,' not we the Chamber, not we the Retail Federation, not we the Disney. It's 'we the people,'" said the National Rifle Association's lobbyist Marion Hammer.
Rep. Greg Evers, the Panhandle Republican who sponsored the measure, put it in more sensational terms.
"This is a safety issue that ... allows your daughter, allows your mother, allows your brother - the ability to protect themselves against rapists, against child molesters and against harm," he said. "And businesses cannot guarantee you that you will be safe from that standpoint."
The bill (HB 503) would prohibit employers, such as Publix and Sears, from having policies that prohibit employees bringing firearms with them to work and leaving them locked in cars.
Limiting the bill to people with concealed weapons permits - there are about 487,000 in Florida - was supposed to be a concession to the business lobby. But the amendment did not alter the emotionally charged debate that, for an hour Wednesday, eclipsed the state budget woes and other issues facing the Legislature.
David Daniel, chief lobbyist for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, dismissed it as a "big government solution looking for a problem."
Republicans have been conflicted on the issue because of allegiances to both the gun and business lobbies. But on Wednesday, all Republicans but two on the Environment & Natural Resources Council voted for the bill.
Most did not speak during the debate, perhaps mindful of how their words could be used in the November elections.
Both sides illustrated points through regular citizens.
Betsy Marble, a registered nurse from West Palm Beach, testified that hospital employees sometimes get in arguments. But that the solution was to go home and cool off instead of reaching for a weapon in their car.
Mike Bates, a talk show host from Pensacola, noted how he drove to Tallahassee with a gun in his car and that he would probably stop at Publix on the way back. "It poses no danger to anybody," he said.
The bill may have to pass through one other committee in the House before reaching the full membership. It has yet to be heard in the Senate.