By Tonya Alanez
Floridians could fire warning shots or display a weapon in self- defense under a bill approved by the Florida Legislature on Thursday.
The measure, a substantial expansion of the state's controversial "stand your ground" law, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature. He has not indicated as yet whether he will sign it. The Senate voted 32-7 to approve it. The House approved the bill on March 20.
The measure says someone can threaten the use of force if that person feels his or her life, home or property were at risk of harm. It also allows people cleared by the courts because they acted in self-defense to petition for their records to be expunged.
In support of expungement, state Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, a former sheriff, said "an innocent person is innocent. You shouldn't have to defend your name for the rest of your life."
State Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, spoke against the proposal.
"I just don't think it's responsible right now to encourage people to fire warning shots," he said. "I think it sends the wrong message to Florida."
But state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the measure "is about self-defense."
The bill stems from the conviction of Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot during an incident of alleged domestic violence.
Florida's "stand your ground" law, passed in 2005, has been blamed for a rash of high-profile shootings in recent years.
Last summer, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, got into a fight with the unarmed Trayvon.
This year, the law was in the middle of a legal showdown in Jacksonville after Michael Dunn was found guilty of second-degree attempted murder for shooting into a car full of teenagers and killing a 17-year-old.
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