The Sarasota City Commission has taken heat for one of its legislative priorities, supporting the repeal of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
But some commissioners were surprised to find they had taken a stance in the first place.
Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman both said they didn’t vote in support of a repeal, but rather to encourage a conversation about a hot-button topic. Initially, that defense could be hard for some to reconcile because of a bolded section in the list of the city’s legislative priorities.
“SUPPORT: The repeal of the Stand Your Ground statute,” the document states.
Revisiting the Sept. 3 City Commission meeting at which the priority was first discussed, however, Atwell and Chapman’s story rings true. The word “repeal” was never mentioned with regard to Stand Your Ground. Vice Mayor Willie Shaw was the first to broach the topic.
"I'd like to bring to our legislative agenda the revisiting of the Stand Your Ground law for the state of Florida," Shaw said. Chapman quickly agreed with that notion.
Atwell’s support for the priority was prefaced with a statement that it’s a pressing issue, regardless of what side of the debate one supports.
“I'm willing to put that down and see what happens, because this a hot item right now and we need to pay attention to it,” Atwell said.
Chapman did say the law opened the door for vigilantism and allowed those who initiated violence to claim self-defense when the other person responds.
Still, Chapman and Atwell’s claim that they didn’t support a repeal is further backed by the meeting’s official minutes.
“Mayor Snyder confirmed the commission's consensus to add the following items to the proposed 2014 legislative priorities list for the city of Sarasota: … A revisiting of the state's ‘Stand Your Ground’ law,” the minutes state.
So, when did things change? Shaw mentioned a letter from the Florida Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials regarding Stand Your Ground. Shaw suggested the city follow the FBC-LEO’s lead — still using the word “revisit” — and City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini requested a copy of that letter.
The letter in question was a resolution of the FBC-LEO. The resolution urged the repeal of the law, rather than supporting a re-examination. Nadalini consulted with Shaw, who said to use the FBC-LEO language.
Still, Chapman and Atwell had time to address any misunderstanding. The first draft of a Stand Your Ground legislative priority, using the word “repeal,” was sent to commissioners Sept. 5. Two commission meetings were held between Sept. 5 and the Sept. 18 county delegation meeting, both of which included discussion about legislative priorities.
Atwell said she viewed the wording as unimportant. Whether it was in favor of or against the Stand Your Ground law, she said, creating a legislative priority was a sign to legislators that there should at least be a conversation regarding the issue.
“To me, a priority — I think it's a responsibility, that we need to talk about it,” Atwell said.
Asked to comment on the topic of Stand Your Ground, Chapman declined.
“I’m tired of talking about it,” Chapman said. “No comment.”
Regardless of how it was formed, the legislative priority seems to have failed to make any impact on the county’s legislative delegation. Caragiulo, who eventually opposed the priority but had to present it at the delegation meeting, said all of Sarasota’s state legislators expressed no interest in a repeal.
If momentum for repealing the law ever existed among the city commissioners, it appears to have dissipated. Regardless, Atwell said there were local efforts to recall those who supported the legislative priority. She said she didn’t know what would come of that push, but criticized the attitude of people up in arms solely because of the Stand Your Ground stance.
“Single-issue politics is not an effective way to judge legislatures,” Atwell said. “To highlight one issue rather than focusing on our collective body of work sort of narrows our ability to govern.”