TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Gov. Rick Scott has made it clear he won't call a special session to consider changing Florida's "stand your ground'' law. But protesters upset with the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and who camped out at the Florida Capitol for nearly a month have managed to persuade enough legislators to try to bypass Scott.
The Department of State on Monday announced that a required 32 legislators have asked for a special session in writing. Under an obscure state law, that result triggers an official poll of the entire 160-member Florida Legislature.
A yes vote by three-fifths of the Legislature – which is controlled by Republicans – would result in a special session. The only ones who have asked for a special session so far are Democrats.
"I strongly believe that a special session is the best way to justly address the concerns of our constituents,'' said House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale and one of the first members to ask for the poll.
The Department of State said it wants all poll responses back by midnight on Aug. 19.
Top Republican leaders such as Senate President Don Gaetz have said there is no reason to hold a special session. House Speaker Will Weatherford has agreed to have a hearing on the law this fall but has said it is unlikely the House would ever vote to repeal the measure.
Weatherford, in a statement, said that once the poll was finished the protesters need to leave the Capitol.
"Once this poll concludes, the question of a special session will be final,'' Weatherford said. "I trust our protesters will accept the results and return the Capitol back to normal business. It's time.''
Zimmerman was acquitted last month of shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. He said that he shot Martin in self-defense. While the “stand your ground'' law was not mentioned in the trial, it was included in instructions given to the jury.
Three days after Zimmerman was acquitted, protesters arrived at the Capitol. Since that time, a small group of them have remained, spending the night in the hallways near Scott's offices.
They have demanded the repeal of the "stand your ground'' law as well as changes to school discipline policies.
The constant presence of the protesters has prompted Capitols security to be increased. So far the state has spent nearly $150,000 on overtime costs. The protest has garnered national media attention and support from celebrities such as Harry Belafonte.
Protest leaders met with Scott shortly after the protest began but the governor declined their request for a special session. That led to the group urging legislators to help them.
Phillip Agnew, executive director of the Dream Defenders, said the triggering of the poll is proof that "our experiment in democracy is growing every day.'' He said the group would continue petitioning legislators to gain more legislative support.