Bill in Florida which would've banned Tazing kids under 16 hits snag
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A pair of bills that would prohibit police and others from using stun guns on children 16 or younger are in trouble after their sponsor failed to appear before a legislative committee Tuesday.
The Senate Education Committee postponed the bills and chairwoman Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, said she was unsure whether they would be brought up again. The bills were filed after police officers drew criticism for using stun guns against children, including an elementary school pupil.
The committee had earlier delayed action on one of the bills by Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, rather than vote it down to give him a chance to offer changes in response to criticism from law enforcement officials. Siplin was not in Tallahassee due to an emergency and misunderstanding, a woman in his Orlando office said.
He did not immediately return a message seeking comment. "The problem with the bill when we discussed it previously -- and sheriffs will tell you -- is that you do not know what age a child is," Lynn said.
Lynn said lawmakers are also worried that police would shoot children if barred from using stun guns. A Senate staff report also notes it would be difficult for any citizen using a stun gun for self-defense to know if a youthful attacker is 16 or under.
The bills were introduced after Miami-Dade County officers used a stun gun on a 6-year-old boy who was wielding a piece of glass in a principal's office and on a 12-year-old girl who was playing hooky. The girl was drunk and, while trying to escape the officer, was about to run into traffic when she was stunned, police said.
A Jacksonville officer received a three-day suspension last year for zapping a 13-year-old girl at least twice with a stun gun while she was handcuffed in the back seat of his caged patrol car.
Siplin's first bill (SB 318) would prohibit anyone, including police, from using a Taser or similar weapon that can stun a person with a high-voltage jolt of electricity on a child 16 or younger on school grounds.
His second bill (SB 554) would extend the same prohibition to any place if the stun gun user knew or should have known the child was 16 or younger. A violation could be punished by up to a year in jail and $1,000 fine.
Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, said law enforcement officials have twice taken time away from their duties to appear at committee meetings. Several were on hand Tuesday but the bills were delayed without public testimony.
Baker, a gun shop owner, said Siplin also has never discussed the bills' problems with committee members.
"I would recommend that, really, until the sponsor can address our committee's concerns individually, I'd recommend that we not hear these bills again," Baker said.
More than 100 people have died in the United States and Canada since 2001 after being shocked with a Taser, including several in Florida. In nearly all cases the deaths were blamed on other factors including drug use.
Police and manufacturers insist the weapons are safe, but some jurisdictions have limited their use.
Another bill (CS-SB 214) would allow police and correctional officers to use stun guns only on subjects who offer active physical resistance and have the apparent ability to physically threaten officers and others or on suspects who are attempting to flee or escape.