Senators Stewart and Rader Call for Independent Senate Investigation Into Commissioner Putnam's Agency Background Check Failure
Jolted by Commissioner Adam Putnam's admission that his Department of Agriculture (DACS) issued hundreds of concealed carry permits to ineligible applicants, and the subsequent failure to immediately disclose the breach until news reports appeared Friday, state Senators Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) and Kevin Rader (D-Delray Beach) on Monday called for a special Senate investigation.
"The recent acknowledgement by the Department of Agriculture that it had wrongly issued hundreds of concealed weapons permits to non-eligible individuals over a period of approximately one year, and subsequently failed to promptly disclose that failure for at least one year after, has deeply shaken our trust in the agency's ability to safeguard the people of Florida," they wrote to Senate President Joe Negron requesting the investigation. "As more details have emerged since news broke of the scandal late Friday, questions have mounted as to the degree of knowledge within the agency, namely who knew what, and when?"
The disqualifying criteria that the missed screenings were supposed to catch include fugitives, those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, anyone deemed mentally defective or confined to a mental institution, and those dishonorably discharged.
In their letter, the Senators requested that the president immediately appoint a special select committee under Senate Rule 1.5 "to provide the measure of full transparency the public demands from their elected officials."
The need for such an independent probe arose as the questions over the flawed permitting process mounted, the lawmakers noted. Not only was the scope of the internal investigation conducted by Putnam's own agency an issue, but whether all of the ineligible permits the agency issued were captured. They also want to know if the Florida Department of Law Enforcement failed to notify the governor and his office about the security breakdown.
According to the Department of Agriculture's internal Inspector General's report, FDLE employees were notified back in 2016 about an inability by DACS employees to log onto a critical database for background screenings. They were also questioned as part of the 2017 internal investigation. Yet, according to Governor Scott, he learned of the background check screening failure only after the news broke late Friday.
Finally, the Senators want to know the intent behind the agriculture agency's push for legislation this year which contained an obscure provision to give blanket approval to any concealed weapons permit which had not been issued within 90 days of application if no disqualifying information had been received.
"During all of the committee hearings this session, nothing was disclosed," said Senator Rader, who is vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee which has oversight of Putnam's agency. "Was it a cover up? Was it a way to rubber stamp what they knew they had already done?"
Representing districts which were ground zero for mass shootings over the past two years, Senators Stewart and Rader noted that the need for full transparency in vetting this latest fiasco involving Putnam's agency is crucial.
"To merely accept the word of an agency head that the problem has been fully rectified without a full and independent investigation would be not only dereliction of our duty, but an affront to all those families still suffering from these wounds who look to us to prevent similar tragedies in the future," they wrote. "We strongly urge you to…convene the select committee so that the people of Florida get the critical answers they deserve."