A Florida House panel is having a hearing on Florida's Stand Your Ground law. (Photo via Steven Martin)

A Florida House panel is having a hearing on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. (Photo via Steven Martin)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The GOP-led Florida House of Representatives will discuss the state’s controversial self-defense law, Stand Your Ground, during a five-hour hearing today. However, the one bill being voted on during the hearing is expected to fail.

The law got a lot of attention during the trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Even though Zimmerman wasn’t acquitted for second degree murder charges this year because of the law, the law did initially keep him from facing any charges when the shooting first happened.

When news spread immediately following the shooting that Zimmerman would not face trial after stalking and shooting a black minor because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, rallies and protests all over the country prompted state officials to appoint a special prosecutor to charge Zimmerman. Zimmerman was eventually acquitted.

However, the controversy over Stand Your Ground continued.

Florida lawmakers have since been at work trying to propose changes– and even throw out the law.

This summer, a group of young people staged a sit-in for weeks at the Florida Capitol in the hopes Gov. Rick Scott would call for a special session for lawmakers to repeal the law. That never happened, but lawmakers did agree to hold a hearing for the law.

The hearing, however, might be all that will come of efforts to change the law. According to the Associated Press:

Florida’s Republican-controlled House is expected on Thursday to keep intact the state’s contentious “stand your ground” law that has sparked protests in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The House has scheduled a vote on a Democratic-backed measure that would repeal the 8-year-old law that allows the use of deadly force if someone believes their life is in jeopardy.

The move by the House is unusual since the Legislature doesn’t often spend time on legislation that has little chance of passage.

This, of course, has angered Democrats who have drafted bills in an effort to at least make some changes.

As The Palm Beach Post reports:

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, traded jabs with a leading Republican Wednesday on the eve of a House hearing on the state’s controversial “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Thurston said House Democrats “strongly believe there must be major changes and fixes” to the 2005 law, which has drawn national attention since shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.

…Democratic-sponsored legislation (HB 4003) going before the committee would repeal the law, but is almost certain to fail. While Thurston spoke only about fixing the law — and not repealing it — [state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach], said that showed signs of a split among Democrats.

Gaetz, has always been vehemently opposed to changing the law. He has told reporters he didn’t support changing “one damn comma” in the law.

And according to The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald, Gaetz– who chairs the panel holding the hearing– isn’t even interested in the GOP-led Florida Senate’s approach.

His panel, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, has set aside five hours to hear two Stand Your Ground bills: a proposal that would repeal the law by Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee; and a bipartisan effort to extend Stand Your Ground immunity to people who fire a warning shot.

Thurston chided Gaetz for leaving HB 33 off the agenda. The bill by Rep.Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, mirrors a bipartisan Stand Your Ground reform bill that’s already found support in the Senate.

Thurston said that’s the kind of effort House Democrats would back.

“There’s a high probability that if legislation is passed in a bipartisan, bicameral way, I think [Gov. Rick Scott] will be inclined to do the right thing and sign it,” he said.

…Said Gaetz: “My job is to put bills on the agenda for the Criminal Justice Subcommittee that are worthy of a debate that is worthy of the people of Florida… I don’t support the Senate bill because I don’t think it does anything.”

Despite the rallies and sit-ins and national criticism of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, polling shows a majority of Floridians still support the law.