State Politics

Another gun lobby bill sails through Legislature

TALLAHASSEE — Adoption agencies can’t require prospective parents to disclose whether they have a firearm, according to a new bill that rocketed Thursday out of the Legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.

Gov. Charlie Crist plans to approve the legislation, along with another National Rifle Association-backed bill that would stop legislators from raiding a special trust fund that pays for concealed-weapons permit regulation. The bill could be passed by the Legislature as early as next week.

Both bills attest to the might of the NRA. But the group has won so many victories that even supporters say the gun lobby is now left with little nips and tucks to the right to own firearms.

“The NRA is running out of targets,” said Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat in the House, where the adoption measure passed unanimously Thursday. “These bills really don’t do anything. They’re innocuous.”

The adoption bill, for instance, fixes a problem that wasn’t widespread and was the result of a mix-up at the Children’s Home Society in Central Florida, officials said. The society, a nonprofit adoption agency under the Department of Children and Families, was using an outdated form that happened to ask potential parents about gun ownership as well as pharmaceuticals and other personal questions.

After the NRA brought the matter to the attention of lawmakers, DCF in December instructed all adoption agencies to refrain from asking about guns.

Only two lawmakers — both Democrats — voted against the bill Thursday in the Senate: Frederica Wilson, of Miami, and Ted Deutch, of Boca Raton.

Wilson is a longtime gun opponent and Deutch spoke out against the unfairness of the state’s ban on allowing gay couples to adopt children.

The trust-fund bill will prohibit lawmakers from raiding the special account derived from fees on licenses for concealed weapons, security officers and private investigators.

But today’s legislators can’t bind a future Legislature. So, in future years, the Legislature could bypass the restriction by writing special language into future budgets that would tap the fund, warned J.D. Alexander, the Senate’s Republican budget chairman from Lake Wales.

He described the trust-fund bill as “symbolic. It’s a statement of our priorities.”

But the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, said the pieces of legislation are important to gun owners.

Hammer said an attempt by the Legislature last year to raid the gun-owner trust fund to balance the budget would have amounted to an unfair tax on gun owners. Crist vetoed the $6 million raid at the NRA’s urging — even though his proposed budget that year called for an even bigger sweep of the fund: $8 million.

Hammer said the adoption issue involving the Children’s Home Society was evidence that government-sanctioned groups — the adoption agencies — could be keeping a list of firearms owners, which is prohibited in Florida. Hammer got the gun-list prohibition written into law years ago, as well as a ban on law-enforcement departments keeping databases of gun purchases at pawn shops.

Hammer said she now believes that gun lists might be being kept by insurance companies.

She said some gun owners want her to push for a law banning pediatricians from asking children about firearms in the home. She said the gun-ownership information could be placed in the child’s file, wind up in the health insurance company’s hands and then be turned over to a homeowner insurance company that could deny coverage to someone because he owns a gun.

The NRA is neutral on another gun bill called the Florida Firearms Freedom Act, which attempts to prohibit the federal government from regulating firearms that are made and sold in Florida. The measure’s prime sponsor is Sen. Carey Baker, a Eustis Republican and gun-store owner.