The United States Conference of Mayors: Celebrating 75 Years

Florida Gun Lawsuit Preemption Bill Threatens Miami-Dade County Mayor Penelas with Five-Year Jail Sentence

By Ed Somers

Legislation has been introduced in the Florida legislature which, if passed and then signed by Governor Jeb Bush, could send Miami-Dade County Mayor Alexander Penelas to prison for having filed a lawsuit against the gun industry.

The legislation would make it a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine for any local government official or employee who files suit against the gun industry, and includes a retroactive provision.

The bill is also aimed at other Florida cities considering lawsuits, such as Tampa.

The sponsor of the bill, State Rep. George Albright, commented in press reports that "I look forward to Mayor Penelas, if he continues this lawsuit, being a convicted felon and being removed from office by the governor."

Mayor Penelas called the bill "undemocratic," stating that, "our founding fathers took great steps to preserve access to the courts. It is not right for any legislature to take away that constitutional right."

Penelas has called on the Florida Legislature to reject the legislation, and on Governor Bush not to sign the bill if passed.

While Mayor Penelas has said that the chances of passage are good, he added that he would challenge the constitutionality of the bill.

Preemption legislation has been signed into law in Georgia aimed at Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell's lawsuit, but the Georgia bill does not make the filing of a lawsuit a felony. Despite the state action, Mayor Campbell is continuing with his lawsuit effort, arguing that the attempted preemption is illegal.

And in Arkansas, the House just this week approved a bill to preempt local gun lawsuits.

Other states in which preemption legislation has been introduced include Alaska, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and West Virginia.

It is also expected that legislation will be introduced in Louisiana, Missouri and Michigan.

On the federal level, Rep. Bob Barr (GA) is pushing legislation to preempt suits against the gun industry nationally.

Senate Bill Would Allow Cities to Recover Federal Gun Violence Costs
On March 4, Senators Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Richard Durbin (IL), and Charles Schumer (NY) held a press conference to announce the introduction of new legislation called the "Gun Industry Accountability Act." Joining the Senators in a press conference in support of the bill were Mayors Campbell of Atlanta and Penelas of Miami-Dade County.

The bill would allow cities, counties or state governments who sue the gun industry to also recover federal costs associated with their claims -- even though the Federal government did not join the suit. The local or state government could keep two-thirds of the recovered federal costs, and give one-third of the recovered federal costs to the Federal government.

In commenting on the bill, Mayor Campbell stressed, "our objective is not about money, its about saving lives," calling handguns "the most inherently dangerous consumer product."

Mayor Campbell also reflected on the irony that the states are now fighting over how they are going to spend the windfall from the tobacco settlement which resulted from government lawsuits, while at the same time many of the same states are seeking to prevent local-government access to the courts.

Mayor Penelas said, "we must demand from the gun industry greater safety technology." The Mayor also restated his offer to withdraw his suit if the gun industry would agree to modest legislative provisions such as one gun a month, trigger locks, and other child safety measures.

In addition to Mayors Campbell and Penelas, Mayors Joseph Ganim of Bridgeport, Marc Morial of New Orleans and Clarence Harmon of St. Louis all submitted statements in support of the legislation. Mayors Morial and Ganim have already brought suit against the gun industry, and Mayor Harmon is developing a suit.

In his statement Mayor Harmon said, "As the Mayor and former Police Chief of St. Louis, I am very concerned about the negative effects that guns and gun violence have on our nation's urban centers and believe that the gun industry must take some responsibility for the deleterious effects of the products they sell."