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Republican state lawmakers push back on protesters' call for special legislative session

4:17 PM, Jul 29, 2013   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida - Monday is Day 14 of the sit-in at the Florida Capitol and the protesters remain outside Gov. Rick Scott's office trying to convince him to call a special legislative session.

They had an unexpected visit from a Republican state lawmaker who represents part of the Tallahassee area.

Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, met with members of the Dream Defenders. He said he respects their protest, but does not agree with their demands.

One of the main issues they want to focus on in a special session is Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to use deadly force in public if they feel a serious threat to their safety.

Rep. Beshears said the people in his north Florida district strongly favor the Stand Your Ground law.

"I told them I would be glad to agree to a debate on it, but not during a special session. I would agree to it when people are here, when the Legislature is here so it does not cost any more money. But I already have my opinion and I know what my constituents feel. We agree on Stand Your Ground. We support Stand Your Ground. That's why I'm not scared of a debate."

Ahmad Abuznaid of the Dream Defenders said it was nice for Rep. Beshears to visit them, but they want action on the issues of Stand Your Ground, racial profiling and juvenile justice policies.

Abuznaid said state leaders can decide to act now or more people from around the country will join the protest at the Florida Capitol.

"People from all over are willing to join us. So if people do not want to take leadership right now, they can wait until thousands more join us from New York and Philly and Baltimore and D.C. because we won't stop."

Meanwhile, Senate President Don Gaetz, who has the power to call a special legislative session along with the House speaker, says he respects the right of the Dream Defenders to protest.

But Gaetz flat out disagrees with their call for a special session.

"I stand with Gov. Scott on this and I stand with Speaker Weatherford. I think you call a special session of the Legislature when you have a landing zone that's agreed upon on an issue. You don't call a special session, I don't think, and just bring a 160 politicians to town and turn them loose and hope it all works out. I don't think that's the right thing to do."

Since Gov. Scott won't call a special session, and neither will House and Senate leaders, Dream Defenders are trying one more tactic to achieve their goal.

Under Florida's constitution, a special session can be convened if 32 lawmakers sign a petition to poll all 160 state lawmakers on the question.

If 60 percent of the House and Senate agree to a session, then it would be held.

That third method has been tried before, but it has never succeeded.

Abuznaid says the Dream Defenders are energized by a visit from civil rights activist and actor Harry Belafonte last Friday.

Belafonte promised to do whatever he can to support the protesters with their goals at the Capitol.

Belafonte warned Gov. Rick Scott and state leaders that the protest will become bigger and stronger, and could threaten to make Florida "ungovernable", if they continue to refuse to call a special session.

Senate President Gaetz was asked what he thought about those comments threatening to shut down the state of Florida.

"I think Harry Belafonte was a better singer than he is a prognosticator of public policy. I can't imagine that something like that would be the case. I think Mr. Belafonte dropped into Florida, he made his comments which he has a right to, and then got on an airplane and left. I don't think, with all due respect, I don't think he understands a whole lot about what it takes to govern the state of Florida."

Abuznaid called Belafonte's visit the start of a new relationship with a civil rights hero.

"It empowered us a bit to know that people of the past who've accomplished great goals are willing to support us and join in our fight and so it was also a validation on our part of the work that we're doing and that we're hoping to do."

Abuznaid said Dream Defenders are staying the course and they will continue their sit-in.

"These issues are imperative for us to deal with as Floridians and as Americans and so we're here willing to wait it out until the time is right."

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