FILE - Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried 

Florida Rep. Javier Fernández, D-Miami, has filed a 2020 bill that would require applicants to complete firearms training and safety courses before being granted conceal-carry permits and the 2 million state residents already authorized to carry also do so to renew their permits.

House Bill 809 had not been assigned to a committee, did not have a Senate companion nor any co-sponsors as of Monday, but it did have a “significant other” – Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Florida Democrat elected to statewide office.

Florida’s conceal-carry licensing process became a campaign issue during Fried’s 2018 upset victory over Republican Matt Caldwell after the Tampa Bay Times revealed under former commissioner Adam Putnam – defeated in the GOP gubernatorial primary by Gov. Ron DeSantis – the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services failed to properly conduct background checks on as many as 350,000 concealed weapons applications between February 2016 and March 2017.

“Since taking office, we have fixed many of the concealed weapons program’s issues – increasing accountability by ensuing all background checks are completed, while improving efficiency in application processing times,” Fried said in a Nov. 27 statement.

According to Fried’s office, other requirements proposed under HB 809 include:

• Requiring fingerprint retention for concealed weapons license renewals to “close the dangerous loophole” of applicants that have committed crimes in other states eluding detection.

Right now, the state “does not have the ability to retain fingerprints for individuals applying for concealed weapons licenses,” Fried’s office maintains. “Retaining this information will allow the [Agriculture & Consumer Services] Department to immediately access criminal history information on applicants who have committed crimes in other states, streamlining the background check process and increasing public safety.”

• Reducing the license renewal period from seven years to five, the maximum length for which the federal government will allow fingerprint retention.

• Reducing the concealed license fee from $55 to $40.

• Reducing the license renewal fee more than 10 percent, from $45 to $40.

“These program enhancements will allow us to build on our accountability and public safety initiatives, while ensuring the program functions efficiently,” Fried said.

“While [Fried] has made great progress, legislative action is required to bring further improvements to the accountability and safety of the program,” Fernández said. “Right now, the potential disqualifying information of crimes committed out of state is a dangerous blind spot that this legislation will fix with a fingerprint retention system, helping keep weapons out of the wrong hands.”

The fingerprint database and requirement for new applicants, and those seeking renewals, provide proof they’ve completed firearms and safety training courses necessary to augment “new accountability and oversight measures, and new leadership and additional personnel” Fried said she has implemented since assuming office in January.

“As a result of these changes, application review times have been reduced by up to 98 percent,” Fried’s office states.

Fernández’s HB 809 is among a bevy of competing gun control/gun rights bills pre-filed for the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 14, including several related to concealed weapons permits. Among them:

HB 117, filed Sept. 5 by Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Riviera Beach, would require permit applicants to undergo a mental health evaluation to qualify.

The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Criminal Justice and Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations subcommittees where it awaits first hearings.

HB 273, filed Oct. 1 by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-In-The-Hills, and three co-sponsors would make Florida the 16th state to implement “constitutional carry,” allowing residents to carry guns without applying for a concealed-weapons permit.

As with HB 117, Sabatini’s bill has been referred to Judiciary Committee and the Criminal Justice and Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations subcommittees, where it awaits first hearings.