State Net Criminal Law Update: Battle Over 'Stand Your Ground' Heats Up

BATTLE OVER 'STAND YOUR GROUND' HEATS UP: Gun-control advocates — spurred in part by the recent shooting death of a black teen in Florida — have launched what the Rev. Al Sharpton last week called a "spring and summer offensive" to generate support for gun control in general and the moderation or repeal of stand-your-ground laws in particular.

Ronald Davis, father of Jordan Davis, the 16-year-old black youth fatally shot in connection with an altercation over loud rap music in November 2012, said earlier this year that stand-your-ground laws make it easier for young black men to become "collateral damage" in the push by groups like the National Rifle Association to expand gun rights. A study by the Tampa Bay Times seems to support that view, showing that those who claimed "stand your ground" as a defense in Florida shooting cases prevailed more frequently when their victim was black than when the victim was white, 73 percent of the time versus 59 percent.

Davis' death has highlighted another aspect of Florida's stand-your-ground law that Republican state Sen. David Simmons takes exception to: it can be claimed as a defense even by those who instigate a confrontation that leads to gunfire, as was evidently the case with Davis. So Simmons has introduced legislation to curb that option.

But even as he pushed for his bill (SB 130) — and hundreds of protestors gathered in Tallahassee for an anti-gun rally — last week, most lawmakers in the Florida Capitol were focused instead on bills aimed at expanding the state's stand-your-ground law to cover warning shots and making it illegal for schools to punish children for nibbling food into the shape of a gun. That fact reflects the reality that after toning down its rhetoric in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut two years ago, the NRA's lobbying effort is in full swing again.

Still, legislation seeking to roll back parts of stand-your-ground laws has been introduced in several states, although none of it has passed. And no new stand-your-ground laws have been enacted since the shooting death of another black Florida teen, Trayvon Martin, in February 2012. (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, STATE NET)

— Compiled by KOREY CLARK

CUOMO'S INMATE COLLEGE PLAN STILL DEVELOPING: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made big waves last month when he expressed his intention to propose providing a free college education to select prison inmates. But with the Empire State budget deadline rapidly approaching, the governor's plan is still far from complete.

As of last week, Cuomo had still not solicited requests from colleges that would potentially be providing the courses. Although he has publicly said it would cost the state about $5,000 per inmate, he has also not put together an official figure to present to lawmakers. A Cuomo spokesperson, however, vowed the governor's plan would be ready by the budget deadline.

"We're working with the legislature on the funding issue, and we are in the process of finalizing the RFP, which will be ready in the near future," spokesperson Richard Azzopardi told reporters.

The plan has drawn intense criticism from Republicans, mostly around the plan's potential cost.

"The governor's plan doesn't even have a price tag," Sen. Thomas Libous (R) told the Poughkeepsie Journal. "With over 50,000 inmates in state prisons, this program could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. That money could go to increased student aid or reduced tuition at SUNY schools."

A spokesperson for Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R) said his boss also opposed the proposed plan.

"Senator Skelos doesn't believe taxpayer dollars should be used to provide free college tuition for felons while struggling middle-class families take out student loans to help their kids meet the rising cost of higher education," said Scott Reif.

Even some Democrats have balked. Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D), whose district includes three state prisons, says her constituents would not be happy to learn that convicted criminals were receiving a free college education while they are struggling to pay for their kids' tuition, housing and books.

"That is the vast majority of feedback that I'm also getting from my constituents," she told National Public Radio. "You know, 'Where is the relief for the rest of the law-abiding population?'"

But Cuomo has argued that the plan would save the state millions of dollars in the long run by reducing recidivism. He has publicly said it costs the state about $60,000 a year to house an inmate.

"Forget nice; let's talk about self-interest," Cuomo says. "You pay $60,000 for a prison cell for a year. You put a guy away for 10 years, that's 600 grand. Right now, chances are almost half, that once he's released, he's going to come right back."

Cuomo pointed to the success of a privately funded model program started at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, which provided college courses in six maximum and medium security prisons across the state. Approximately 500 inmates went through that program, with 250 receiving degrees. Of those, only 4 percent became repeat offenders.

There is other precedent as well: Congress in the 1970s passed legislation making prisoners eligible for federal Pell grants, which provide financial aid to needy students. But Congress reversed itself in 1994, barring inmates from receiving those grants. New York lawmakers followed suit the following year by banning prisoners from receiving in-state tuition assistance as well.

Cuomo's plan would institute a trial program in about 10 prisons, one in each region of the state. The governor's budget proposal is due at the end of this month. (POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, CNN.COM)

CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The ALABAMA House approves HB 379, which would allow the names of suppliers of the drugs used to carry out lethal injection executions to be kept from the public and the courts. It moves to the Senate (STATE NET, ANNISTON STAR). • The WASHINGTON Senate approves HB 2789, which would require state agencies and law enforcement to receive approval from their governing bodies before procuring drones and to obtain warrants for most uses. The bill is in the House for concurrence (STATE NET, SEATTLE TIMES). • The NEW HAMPSHIRE House approves HB 1170 which would end capital punishment in the Granite State. It moves to the Senate (BOSTON GLOBE).

EDUCATION: The IDAHO House approves SB 1254, which would allow guns on the state's public college and university campuses. It goes to Gov. Butch Otter (R), who has said he will sign it into law (SPOKESMAN-REVIEW [BOISE]).

HEALTH & SCIENCE: The OHIO House approves HB 170, which would greatly expand the number of people allowed to carry the anti-overdose drug naloxone and grant some civil and criminal immunity to people who administer the drug to an overdose victim before seeking medical help for that person. It moves to Gov. John Kasich (R), who is expected to sign it (CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER). • The WASHINGTON Senate approves SB 5887, a bill that would reduce the amount of marijuana and the number of plants medical weed patients can possess. The bill, which would also bar groups of marijuana patients from having collective gardens and establish a statewide patient user registry, moves to the House (SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER). • The KENTUCKY Senate unanimously approves SB 124, which would allow the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville medical schools to conduct research using marijuana oil, which is extracted from a genetically modified strain of the plant for use in treating children who suffer from seizures. The law would allow anyone enrolled in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration trial to be treated with the oil extract. The measure moves to the House (LEXINGTON COURIER-JOURNAL).

POTPOURRI: The WEST VIRGINIA Legislature endorses HB 4393, a bill that would bar the private possession of dangerous wild animals. The measure moves to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) for review (STATE NET).

— Compiled by RICH EHISEN

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