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Courthouse security bill filed in the Senate

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Sen. Joe GrutersSheriffs and their deputies would be considered “officers of the court” when providing courthouse security under a bill filed for the 2020 legislative session.

Sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, SB 118 is a response to a 2017 dispute between the Sarasota County sheriff and the courts over the right to carry firearms in courthouse facilities.

The dispute began when a concealed carry permit holder was denied entry into the Sarasota Historic Courthouse because he was carrying a firearm and complained that the firearm ban denied him access to government offices other than courtrooms.

The sheriff eventually refused to provide security for court facilities that didn’t have courtrooms and asked the Second District Court of Appeal to quash portions of an administrative order issued by 12th Circuit Judge Charles Williams, who was then chief judge, that ordered deputies back to those facilities.

The sheriff argued, among other things, that he was a constitutional officer and that the administrative order violated the doctrine of separation of powers.

“Nowhere in Chapter 30 of Florida Statutes or in any other Florida statute or rule is the Petitioner specifically required to provide security to courthouse facilities outside of the courtroom,” the sheriff’s stated in the petition.

The appellate court eventually sided with Judge Williams.

Gruters was unavailable for comment. But he told his local newspaper that the legislation follows an agreement between the parties that was reflected in the Second DCA opinion.

The proposed legislation would require sheriffs, county commissions, and respective chief judges to “coordinate” the “development of a comprehensive plan for the provision of security for trial court facilities.”

The legislation states that “each sheriff shall retain authority over the implementation and provision of law enforcement services associated with the plan.”

It gives chief judges “decision-making authority” to ensure due-process rights, “including, but not limited to, the scheduling and conduct of trials and other judicial proceedings as part of his or her responsibility for the administration and supervision of trail courts under §43.26.”

A final subsection states that “sheriffs and their deputies, employees, and contractors are officers of the court when providing security for trial court facilities under this subsection.”

If passed, the bill would become effective July 1, 2020.

The legislation faces votes in Judiciary, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice and Appropriations, before reaching the Senate floor.

The first round of interim committee meetings begins September 16. The 60-day session convenes January 14. No companion measure has yet to be filed in the House.

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