TALLAHASSEE — In a case stemming from the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to a state law that threatens stiff penalties if local officials pass gun-related regulations.
The 5-1 ruling was a blow to 33 cities and counties and dozens of local officials who contended that penalties in the 2011 law were unconstitutional. It was a victory for state Republican leaders and Second Amendment advocates such as the National Rifle Association.
Florida since 1987 has barred cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than state firearms laws, and the penalties in the 2011 law were designed to strengthen that “preemption.” The law, for example, could lead to local officials facing $5,000 fines for passing gun regulations and would allow members of the public and organizations to receive damages and attorney fees if they successfully sue local governments for improper gun regulations.
The case did not challenge the underlying 1987 law but contended the penalties in the 2011 law were unconstitutional, in part, because they violated legal immunities for local officials and governments. Also, attorneys for the cities and counties argued the 2011 law violated the constitutional separation of powers because it would lead to courts delving into the motivations or intentions of local elected officials.
But Justice Ricky Polston, in Thursday’s 25-page majority opinion, rejected the arguments, including that the law violated what is known as “governmental function immunity,” a legal doctrine that helps shield government bodies from liability.
“The imposition of these civil statutory actions for violations of the (1987) preemption statute does not violate governmental function immunity,” Polston wrote. “It is not a core municipal function to occupy an area that the Legislature has preempted, and local governments have no lawful discretion or authority to enact ordinances that violate state preemption.”
Polston was joined in the opinion by Chief Justice Carlos Muniz and Justices Charles Canady, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans. Justice Jorge Labarga dissented, while Justice Renatha Francis did not participate.
In his dissent, Labarga argued that the 2011 law violated the separation of powers because it would empower judges to determine whether violations by local elected officials were “knowing and willful.”
“(The) requirement of judicial involvement in determining whether the action of the public official was ‘knowing and willful’ amounts to nothing less than an impermissible judicial intrusion into the official’s legislative thought process, and it undermines the official’s ability to effectuate the constituents’ will,” Labarga wrote.
The majority upheld a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal. The case involved three lawsuits that were consolidated in Leon County circuit court. The lawsuits were filed by cities and counties from various parts of the state, such as Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach.
Attorneys for the local governments wrote in a 2019 court document that city and county officials had been urged to take actions after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, which killed 17 people at the Broward County high school. Those requests involved such things as requiring procedures or documentation to ensure compliance with background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases and requiring reporting of failed background checks.
But the attorneys said local governments refrained from going ahead with the proposals because of the potential penalties in state law.
Former Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who left office this month, joined the challenge, which drew briefs from prominent groups on both sides of the issue, including the NRA and the Giffords and Brady gun-control organizations
Jim Green may not be a household name to Citrus County residents.
But business owners not only know him but thank him for helping them prosper and for saving their livelihoods during the COVID epidemic. It was during that time when Green’s business acumen and communication skills shone.
Green is a finalist for the Chronicle’s 2022 Citizen of the Year, given to someone who goes above and beyond to better the community.
Green, 76, holds several titles: co-chairman of SCORE Nature Coast; chairman of the Citrus Business Alliance (CBA); and board member of the Citrus County chamber governmental affairs committee.
Two years ago, Green was instrumental in launching the Citrus One-Stop Recovery and Economic (CORE) Business Center in Inverness to help business owners start, expand and market their operations.
He works behind the scenes ensuring that small business – the lifeblood of the county – thrives and expands as Citrus grows.
While folks were hunkered down in their homes during 2020-21, businesses suffered and some were in danger of closing.
It was Green who kept in constant contact, helping them navigate turbulent state and federal waters to obtain financial assistance.
He set up appointments with business owners, albeit in well-distanced areas and taking the normal safety precautions, to form “survival” plans.
Green vividly remembers those dark days when the county and the nation came to a halt.
“COVID was a huge shock to everybody in business,” Green said.
Even now, Green continues to help businesses deal with the pandemic aftermath, especially with the shortage of employees.
The Chronicle reported earlier this month that the new Chili’s restaurant in Inverness has been ready to open for weeks but managers cannot find staff to open.
Green said the new Target-anchored Shoppes at Black Diamond and adjacent commercial plazas under construction at the County Road 491 and 486 intersection in Lecanto, will require up to 400 employees.
“I’m not sure where they’ll get them,” he said.
Green said the success of business directly benefits residents because it shifts the tax burden away from homeowners.
The trick, he said, is balancing business growth and preserving the rural flavor of Citrus County, which makes it so attractive.
“The quality of life here is amazing,” he said. “We need to protect the Nature Coast lifestyle.”
‘His heart is in this county’
Green and his wife, Susan, moved to Citrus County in 2002 and are now in their third home.
When Green isn’t busy in the world of business, he can be found on the golf links at Citrus Hills. You might see him fishing off the Homosassa River.
“Every time I go out it is like being in a National Geographic documentary,” he said.
He loves to listen to audio books, especially crime writer Michael Connelly. He enjoys country music (Willie Nelson comes to mind).
Green said he will cut back on his SCORE activities but he’s not ready to retire.
And he will continue to live by his favorite adage: “To leave things better than they were when I arrived.”
Green’s friends and co-workers said he’s more than lived up to those words.
CORE Executive Director Dawn Faherty said that without Green’s involvement, the center would not have gotten off the ground.
“His heart is in this county,” she said.
John Murphy, Citrus County chamber governmental affairs committee chairman, called Green “a tremendous leader,” as evidenced in the early days of COVID when he worked to secure loans and programs for local businesses.
“His business background has benefited our community,” Murphy said. “He has operated at the highest levels and has brought that background to local businesses to help them be successful.”
Added Murphy: “He’s one of those people probably not known by many but the businesses he works with are tremendously grateful for his insight and counsel.”
Josh Wooten, president and CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, said Green “worked tirelessly” with Ardath Prendergast – chamber vice president of operations and the Business Retention and Expansion program – in securing $129 million in loans for local businesses during the pandemic.
“I can think of no retiree who’s done more for economic development than Jim,” Wooten said.
Green said he was surprised but honored to be a Citizen of the Year finalist. The Chronicle asked him to expound on the following questions:
Q: You have been nominated for Citizen of the Year finalist because of your contribution to the county. You’ve been active with SCORE, the chamber and the CBA. How do you feel you have most contributed?
A: “My involvement in all three are just an outgrowth of my belief that a strong and successful small-business community will make Citrus County a better place for all of us to live, raise our children and retire.
“Businesses pay more in taxes and call on government services less than residential properties. Plus, small businesses provide job opportunities for both young people and working retirees. “We want a strong economy and job opportunities for our young people. We want managed growth that will foster a diversified economy and still protect the wonderful Nature Coast and the lifestyle it affords.”
Q: You helped navigate businesses through the COVID period. How would you characterize your work?
A: “I worked closely with the Citrus County chamber to help many small businesses navigate the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan processes.
“It was pretty complex and cumbersome and the truly ‘small’ businesses don’t have accountants and lawyers to help them understand the Small Business Administration (SBA) programs. We successfully helped over 100 small businesses to get funds to help them survive the COVID crisis.
“It was very rewarding to know that without that help, some of them would not still be in business today.”
Michael D. Bates is a staff writer with the Citrus County Chronicle and can be reached at email@example.com.
To his thousands of followers on social media, Matt Henry is Imperial Beach Dad or just IB Dad.
He’s a surfer, a car guy, a chalk artist and former pastor, a 42-year-old father of six children under age 12, husband of Christy, his high school sweetheart.
This year, he’s a man on a mission, traveling the country with his family in a converted school bus he calls their “Skoolie.”
Among other amenities, the solar-powered “tiny house on wheels” has six bunks, a bathroom, washer and dryer, a convection oven and a full-glass front for a panoramic view.
The Henrys took off from their Imperial Beach, California, home in November 2022 for a year-long adventure.
In 2016, Matt Henry was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. After three years of battling severe post-surgery Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) disabilities, which he said made him “act like a deranged 6-year-old,” he and his wife decided they needed to take time as a family to make memories.
“We’re on a big family adventure while I’m still me,” Henry said.
His condition is terminal, but as he tells people, “The truth is, we’re all terminal. Life is terminal, and you have to make today matter and leave others better than you found them.”
Currently, the family is in Florida and will be in Citrus County this weekend.
On Sunday, Jan. 22, Matt Henry will be at Calvary Chapel in Homosassa, telling his story and his message of perseverance and positivity and hope in a God who holds him and his family in his hands.
The church service begins at 9 a.m. at the Homosassa Lions Club building, 3705 S. Indiana Terrace, Homosassa, off Homosassa Trail.
Prior to his diagnosis, Henry had always been a bundle of positivity and good vibes, laid back and carefree, a “puppy with a continual wagging tail,” as he described himself.
However, he had started having panic attacks and bouts of depression, which he and others thought was due to stress.
Then he had a seizure and passed out.
After emergency surgery, he experienced the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD, he said in a phone call from somewhere on the road in South Florida. “I couldn’t be around people; I’d be screaming and running to get away, and you can’t do that as a pastor. So, I couldn’t work.”
He isolated himself at home, getting around on a scooter, clutching his “blankie” for security. He couldn’t function as a dad, which compounded his anxiety.
One day, he decided to try going back to church. He snuck in during the service in time for the sermon, ready to run if he needed to.
But he didn’t flee.
The sermon was about Jesus healing a Roman centurion’s son.
“I heard God ask me if I wanted to be healed,” he said. “I said I did.”
He said there wasn’t a huge, miraculous, all-of-a-sudden change, but he went home and ate with his family at the table for the first time in years.
Since then, he has been incrementally getting better, able to be around people and enjoy them as he had before, even as the tumor continues to grow.
“My kids have their dad back,” he said.
For Henry, this year-long trip is also a missionary journey, sharing his story about facing the future and all its uncertainties and the hope he has in Christ.
“We drive up and people are either curious about the bus or about all the kids, or both,” he said. “It’s amazing the conversations we have in parking lots and restaurants and around campfires.”
Follow Matt Henry and his family on Instagram at imperialbeachdad or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ imperialbeachdad.
He posts videos several times a day.
Nancy Kennedy can be reached at 352-564-2927 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.