Will Constitutional Carry be heard in Florida's special session?

Don Petersen

A couple of weeks ago when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was bringing lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a special session to revamp the state’s congressional districts, he was asked if there was anything else he’d like to see lawmakers address when they get back to work.

“I would love to have Constitutional Carry,” he responded, while also naming property insurance and data privacy as two other issues he thought should be a priority.

Well, the special session is slated to kick off next week, but at the moment Constitutional Carry doesn’t appear to be on lawmakers to-do list.

When the lawmakers do go back to Tallahassee, they can’t just talk about any bills they like. The topics are limited to what was outlined in the proclamation, certificates filed with the secretary of state, in the governor’s communication or introduced by the consent of two-thirds of the membership of each house.

… Political Analyst Lars Hafner says he thinks the governor will want state lawmakers to be laser-focused on the redistricting maps next week, so it could mean that there will be a separate session for property insurance, maybe even condo law reform. And it won’t be cheap. It costs taxpayers about $100,000 a day to have a special session.

So if DeSantis doesn’t include Constitutional Carry in his official tasks for lawmakers this session, and instead has them focus on redistricting, it would take another session to bring up the bill. State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, the sole House sponsor of Constitutional Carry, says he’s trying to get enough lawmakers on board to bring the bill forward in the weeks ahead.

Sabatini has filed legislation to establish an open carry law in Florida for three years, but his bills have not been heard. His most recent legislation (HB 103) sought to eliminate Florida’s concealed carry permit requirements. He has said requiring individuals to get a permit to bear arms was akin to a “permission slip from government before concealing a weapon for their self defense.”

Now he’s following a similar path as Sen. Jeffrey Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican pressing for a Special Session on insurance reform. Sabatini provided a template letter and encouraged House colleagues to send those back on official letterhead to Secretary of State Laurel Lee.

If Lee’s Office receives letters of support from 32 lawmakers, the Department of State will send official documents to all lawmakers to officially ask if they support a Special Session. It takes the support of three-fifths of members in both chambers of the Legislature — or at least 72 Representatives and 24 Senators — to force a Special Session.

Here’s the problem: Sabatini couldn’t get 32 lawmakers to co-sponsor his Constitutional Carry bill during the regular session, so I’m not particularly optimistic that he’ll be able to rally that kind of support for a special session. And that’s just the first step. In order to actually hold a legislature-initiated special session on Constitutional Carry Sabatini would need buy-in from 72 of the 77 Republicans in the House and every one of the 24 Republican senators. Theoretically that’s doable, but if the support was there you’d think we would have seen the vast majority of those lawmakers sign on to Sabatini’s bill during the regular session.

The scuttlebutt around the state capitol is that Sabatini has burned so many bridges with his colleagues that there aren’t many Republican lawmakers willing to do anything to give him a boost, and there were some pretty heated exchanges earlier this year when Sabatini accused “RINO cowards” like House Speaker Chris Sprowls of blocking debate on his bill, with fellow Republican state Rep. Chris Latvala calling Sabatini a “moron” for hyping up his Constitutional Carry bill when it had yet to find a Senate sponsor.

As I said at the time, I’m not convinced that Sabatini is the only problem here. Even if every one of the Republicans in Tallahassee finds Sabatini so repugnant they can’t work with him, they could still sponsor a Constitutional Carry bill of their own. In fact, it’s not uncommon at all for competing bills to be introduced during the same session, but Sabatini’s bill was the only one dealing with Constitutional Carry that was put forth this year.

Hopefully DeSantis will apply some more public pressure on lawmakers to put their personality conflicts aside and focus on the actual policy, or failing that, call a special session on Constitutional Carry himself. There’s still a chance that Florida could become the 26th state to adopt the measure, but at the moment it’s still very much an open question whether Constitutional Carry will even be brought up for debate in the weeks ahead.