TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Floridians who fire a warning shot or threaten to use a gun could avoid criminal prosecution under a law signed Friday by Gov. Rick Scott.
The legislation, which marks one of the most significant changes to the state's self-defense laws since the 2012 killing of teenager Trayvon Martin, was one of nearly 60 bills signed by Scott on Friday.
The Republican incumbent also signed measures expanding the use of private school vouchers, creating a new incentive program for sports stadiums and making it a crime in Florida to kill or injure a fetus at any stage of development.
The "warning shot" bill (HB 89) was partially inspired by the case of Marissa Alexander. The Jacksonville woman was initially sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a shot near her estranged husband during an altercation. She contended she fired in self-defense, but a judge rejected her use of the "stand your ground" law that allows someone to use deadly force if they believe their life is in jeopardy.
The verdict was thrown out on appeal and she is awaiting a new trial. Her attorneys have asked the judge in her case to consider the new law.
The measure would allow someone to threaten to use force without falling under the state's "10-20-Life" law. That's the 1999 law that requires anyone who shows a gun while committing certain felonies to be sentenced to 10 years in prison. If someone is shot and wounded, the sentence increases to 25 years to life.
Rep. Neil Combee, the sponsor of the legislation, said Friday on Twitter that he hopes it will help with Alexander's case.
Other bills signed by Scott on Friday include:
—A measure (HB 59) that will make it crime to kill or injure a fetus at any stage of development. The bill was a response to the case of a Tampa-area woman who was tricked into taking an abortion pill.
—A bill (HB 227) that will result in Florida paying more than $1 million to a man who spent 21 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing his seven children. James Richardson, a one-time fruit picker who lived in the rural town of Arcadia, was convicted in 1968 of lacing the lunch of his seven children with a powerful insecticide. His conviction was set aside after it was reinvestigated by then-Miami-Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno.
—A bill (HB 7035) that would make it clear that Florida juveniles will no longer be subject to mandatory life sentences. It brings Florida law in line with a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says life without parole for juveniles violates the Constitution's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
—An expansion of Florida's private school voucher program. The bill (SB 850) lets middle-income families in Florida apply to receive vouchers starting in 2016.
—The creation of a new incentive program that will offer millions in taxpayer help to pro sports teams Daytona International Speedway.