DeSantis signed the bill (SB 1884) on Friday after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed it in party-line votes late last month. The bill, which will take effect July 1, will broaden a 2011 law that can make local governments pay as much as $100,000 in damages if they are sued for imposing gun regulations.
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."
Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican who was the House sponsor of the bill signed Friday, said during an April 28 floor debate that the measure is needed to protect Second Amendment rights. He said the bill is designed to "send a message" to local governments.
"I brought this forward so that local governments will once and for all stop violating the rights and stop wasting taxpayer money," said Byrd, an attorney who represents gun owners.
But Democrats argued that cities and counties should not be punished for trying to curb gun violence and recounted incidents such as the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
"If the state doesn’t want to take any action against the gun lobby, stop prohibiting local governments from doing that," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando said during the debate.
DeSantis signed the bill about a month after a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the 2011 law that threatens penalties if cities and counties approve gun regulations. Dozens of local governments and officials challenged the 2011 law after the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people.
Attorneys for the local governments filed a motion April 23 requesting that the 1st District Court of Appeal send to the Supreme Court key issues in the case --- a move known as certifying "questions of great public importance." The Tallahassee-based appeals court had not acted on the request as of Monday morning, according to an online docket.
Under the 2011 law, local governments can be forced to pay up to $100,000 in damages and attorney fees if they are found to have violated the 1987 preemption on gun regulations. Also, local officials can face $5,000 fines and potential removal from office for passing gun regulations.
The bill signed Friday will broaden the law in two ways: It will allow lawsuits for "unwritten" local policies that violate the gun-regulation preemption. Also, local governments could still be forced to pay damages and attorney fees if they change gun-related ordinances or policies after lawsuits are filed --- a change that could block arguments about the mootness of lawsuits.
A House staff analysis said an example of unwritten policies that could be affected by the bill would be "oral instructions given within a law enforcement agency."
DeSantis signed the measure Friday along with 14 other bills and did not issue a statement.