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Senate handles legislation on self-defense, religious liberties and more

March 22, 2017
Lehigh Acres Citizen

The Senate convened for its second week of the annual 60-day session in Tallahassee for the purpose of holding committee meetings as well as passing legislation through the full Senate.

Below are some highlights:

Legislation passes on right to self-defense

This week the Florida Senate passed Senate Bill 128, Self-defense Immunity. This legislation protects the right of self-defense for all Floridians by correcting a misinterpretation of the "Stand Your Ground" law in the 2015 Bretherick vs. State Florida Supreme Court decision.

Senate Bill 128 clarifies that the government, not the accused, has the burden of proof in a "Stand Your Ground" immunity hearing. In a 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

Senate Bill 128 changes the burden of proof and who must bear it during pretrial hearings to evaluate a defendant's claim of immunity based on a justifiable use of force.

Current law provides a defendant a right of immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action if he or she is justified in using force. Although the procedures to claim immunity are not specified by statute, the Florida Supreme Court has determined that defendants must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the entitlement to the immunity at a pretrial hearing.

The bill places the burden of proof on the state and requires the state to overcome the immunity claim by offering evidence meeting the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

Religious Liberties Act passes final committee

The Florida Senate Committee on Judiciary passed Senate Bill 436, the "Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act." This bill ensures that a school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.

Students of any faith have a right to free speech. This legislation makes it clear that we support the constitutional rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion for everyone associated with our public school system.

Senate Bill 436 authorizes students to express religious beliefs in written and oral assignments, free from discrimination. Students may also wear clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display a religious message or symbol, to the same extent secular types of clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display messages or symbols, are permitted in public school dress codes.

Further, students may pray, engage in, and organize religious activities before, during, and after the school day; to the same extent student engagement in secular activity or expression, and the organization of secular activities and groups is permitted.

College Competitiveness Act passing committees

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education unanimously passed Senate Bill 374, the College Competitiveness Act of 2017, a component of the Florida Senate's Excellence in Higher Education agenda.

This legislation will elevate the visibility of our nationally recognized Florida Community College System as an integral partner in Florida's system of higher education and will promote a renewed commitment to access, dedication to the primary 2+2 mission, and on-time completion of vital associate degrees and workforce credentials.

Senate Bill 374 reinstates a statewide coordinating board for the Florida Community College System, tightens the community college bachelor degree approval process, expands 2+2 college-to-university partnerships, and clarifies responsibilities within Florida's taxpayer-funded K-20 education system to maximize programmatic offerings and resources already available at state universities, community colleges, and technical centers.

Senate committee meetings and floor sittings are streamed live on the Senate's website. The daily video broadcast schedule is available at: www.flsenate.gov/Media/VideoSchedule.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto represents District 27 in the Florida Senate. Contact her at 239-338-2570. Her district office is at 2310 First St., Unit 305, Fort Myers.

 
 

 

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