Lawmakers Weigh in on Stand Your Ground Law; Area's 14 State Legislators Polled on Issue in Zimmerman Case and the 10-20-Life Statute

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Byline: Charles Broward

George Zimmerman's supporters say he was standing his ground in shooting Sanford teen Trayvon Martin. Marissa Alexander's supporters say firing a warning shot does not warrant the 20-year prison term the Jacksonville woman is now serving.

Plenty of public figures, grass-level protesters and others here and across the country have put in their 2 cents on both issues. But what do the people who make, revisit and sometimes repeal these laws think?

The Times-Union polled the 14 state legislators in its coverage area to get their stances on the two statutes. Sens. Evelyn Lynn and Stephen Wise and Rep. Charles Van Zant did not respond to several inquiries, but 11 of their colleagues expressed opposing partisan views while all said they would be willing to re-examine the laws for ways to improve them.

Sen. Audrey Gibson took the most aggressive stance, saying she believes a special session of the Legislature should be called to review Stand Your Ground.

"Allowing this to stay on the book until next year at some point, I think, is a dereliction of duty," Gibson said.

Gibson criticized the timetable and ineffectiveness of the task force set up to examine the statute, led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, which had a poor public turnout when it initially met this month in Longwood. Gibson said she would have preferred to invite the public to a convened committee that could actually initiate changes.

Gibson voted against the law when it was passed in 2005, calling it "ambiguous and over-reaching." She said the application of the statute is too loose and the circumstances when it might be applied need to be more narrowly expressed. She re-enforced that it was meant to protect those from the dangers of having to retreat when faced with a genuine threat of great harm, a concept that all the legislators supported.

As for "10-20-Life," Gibson said the laws should also be reviewed at the Legislature's next session in March but are not urgent enough a matter to call for a special session.

Rep. Mia Jones agreed and said she is "completely against" mandatory terms across the board. She said those found to have committed a crime should pay their debts to society, but on more reasonable terms.

"How are they spending that much time when somebody else who might have killed someone or done something else is able to get off?" Jones said.

Discretion in determining appropriate sentences should be left with the judges, not the Legislature nor the prosecutors, she said.

Rep. Reggie Fullwood said he believes the state can find better, less-costly ways to rehabilitate criminals, something that can't be done in the prison system. He suggested more community service and work-release programs, which he said have worked in other states.

"It seems odd to say that it's easier to rehabilitate someone out of prison versus in prison, but it's true," Fullwood said.

One of the legislators defending the laws is Sen. John Thrasher, who served as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives when the statutes were passed in 1999. Thrasher lists that as an accomplishment on his campaign website. …