Florida passes on millions of dollars in federal gun violence prevention funds
Orlando Sentinel March 23, 2023
ORLANDO, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Florida is leaving up to $15 million in federal money on the table that could be used to fight gun violence.
Florida was one of only six states that did not receive funding through a new federal grant to help carry out emergency risk-protection programs. Such orders are used by law enforcement to temporarily seize guns from people suspected of being a danger to themselves or others.
State Sen. Lori Berman, D-West Palm Beach, is pushing for the state to file a late application, which she said federal officials would be open to receiving.
"I don't understand why Florida wouldn't apply and get some of those expenses reimbursed by the federal government," said Berman, who sponsored legislation to create in Florida what are commonly called red flag laws. "The fact 44 other states were able to take advantage leads me to believe that it can't be that onerous of a procedure."
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement evaluated the grant but determined it was not able to meet the December application deadline, because of "complex compliance requirements," such as creating a crisis intervention advisory board, said Gretl Plessinger, an agency spokeswoman.
FDLE forwarded the application to the Office of the State Courts, which also decided not to pursue the funding, according to that agency's spokeswoman.
The U.S. Department of Justice, the agency in charge of the grants, did not respond to inquiries about Florida's status.
The grant program doesn't require state matching dollars. Grants can be used to train law enforcement and court officials and conduct public education campaigns. The dollars can also go to support programs like drug, mental health and veterans' treatment courts, according to the DOJ.
Florida's red flag law, created in the aftermath of the 2018 Parkland school shooting, has saved lives, Berman said. More than 9,000 orders have been issued since the program was launched.
But such laws have drawn criticism from gun rights advocates who say they give law enforcement too much power and don't afford enough due process rights.
Law enforcement agencies can petition courts to temporarily remove people's weapons for up to 14 days under the law. If granted, hearings must be held within two weeks to determine whether to issue risk-protection orders that can last up to a year.
The DOJ announced on Feb. 14 it awarded $231 million in funds through the Byrne State Crisis Intervention Program to 44 states, four U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. The announcement was made on the fifth anniversary of the Parkland massacre.
The other states that did not receive funding are Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, according to the DOJ's list of grant recipients.
The money was made available through sweeping gun violence legislation President Joe Biden signed into law in June.
The law allocates $1.4 billion over five years for state and local law enforcement assistance.
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