A measure that would expand how and where Florida's more than 1.67 million concealed-weapons license holders can carry handguns may have an easier path through the Senate in 2017 than in the past.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, this week sent the bill (SB 140) to three committees, two of which are led by prominent gun-rights supporters. The bill would need to make it through the committees before it could be considered by the full Senate during the 2017 legislative session, which starts in March.
"I've always been a strong proponent of the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," Negron said Tuesday before he assigned the bill to committees.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry handguns in public and also would allow them to be armed on college and university campuses. They also could carry guns at airport passenger terminals; in elementary and secondary schools; and at legislative and local government meetings.
Negron assigned the measure to the Steube-led Judiciary Committee and to the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee, which is chaired by Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, who in 2005 sponsored the House version of the state's "stand-your-ground" self-defense law.
The Senate president Tuesday also assigned the bill to the Rules Committee, which is led by Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto. While not as prominent as Steube and Baxley on gun-related issues, Benacquisto in 2016 voted during a Higher Education Committee meeting in favor of allowing concealed-weapons license holders to carry guns on college and university campuses.
Influential National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer praised Negron when asked about the committee assignments for the bill. But she wouldn't make any prediction on the bill's future.
"It is my hope that Senate members will have an opportunity to vote on this bill," Hammer said Wednesday in an email.
During the 2016 session, open-carry and campus-carry measures failed to advance through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by former Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami. Diaz de la Portilla lost a re-election bid in November.
The campus-carry proposal has been opposed by university and college leaders, campus law- enforcement officials and faculty members.
Florida State University President John Thrasher, a former House speaker and senator, this month reiterated his strong opposition to allowing guns on university and college campuses.
As a member of the Senate, Thrasher helped kill a bill in 2011 that would have allowed gun owners with concealed-weapons licenses to bring their firearms on campuses.
"I opposed it. I killed it. I have worked against it since then," Thrasher told the FSU faculty during his annual "state of the university" address on Dec. 7. "And you have my promise that I will work against it this year also."
The proposals during the 2016 session first went through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, where they drew narrow support. Negron has named Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, to chair that committee in 2017, but it appears the panel will not hear the Steube bill.
Parts of Steube's proposal appear in separate measures that have been filed in the House for the 2017 session.
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, introduced a House version of the campus-carry measure (HB 6005). Also, Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, has proposed a bill (HB 6001) that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns into the passenger terminals of airports.
The House overwhelmingly approved campus-carry and open-carry bills during the 2016 session. Steube and Baxley, who were elected to the Senate last month after serving in the House, voted for both bills.