Bill to Arm Teachers Advances in Florida, Over Governor's Objections
By Dan Sweeney and David Fleshler
Teachers could take up arms under wide-ranging measures dealing with mental health, school safety and gun access that are headed to the floor of the Florida House and Senate after passing through final committee hearings Tuesday.
But the two bills grew further apart in their details, and Gov. Rick Scott doesn't support the part of the plan that would allow teachers to carry firearms, though he has not said whether its inclusion would mean a veto.
The bills offer hundreds of millions of dollars for mental health programs and school safety and raise the age to purchase all firearms to 21 years or older and require three-day waiting periods, requirements that are currently only in place for handguns.
It does not include a ban on assault weapons, one of the top points of contention for Democrats and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School activists.
The full House and Senate could now amend the bills in session on Wednesday, then vote on final passage Thursday or Friday.
"You all failed me and my little boy. I cannot wait for you to do the right thing and protect the children of this state," Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed in the Stoneman Douglas shooting, told legislators. "Change our destiny. We owe that much to all of our children."
As the Senate committee considered the bill Tuesday, Scott said he opposed allowing teachers to carry firearms, but he would not say whether he would veto the bill.
"I don't believe we should be arming our teachers," he said at a news conference Tuesday at Miami-Dade Police headquarters in Doral. "We should be focused on arming law enforcement. So my focus is how do we make sure we have the resources that our law enforcement are trained to do the job. So my focus is arm law enforcement, let teachers teach."
Asked whether he would veto a bill that included arming teachers, he said, "I'm going to review whatever makes it to my desk. I'll review it at that time."
The Florida Sheriff's Marshal Program would allow teachers, after completing 132 hours of training and extensive background and psychological examinations, to carry firearms in school.
Under the amended House bill, county sheriffs would be required to offer the training. School district superintendents would still have the option of participating or not.
Under the Senate plan _ and the House plan until it was amended _ both the superintendent and the sheriff could decide whether or not to participate in the program.
Calling it a "poorly worded amendment drafted in the middle of the night," state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, an alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said that the change to the marshal's program "weighs into that delicate trust that the two parties have to have to move this forward."
Still, Moskowitz voted yes on the overall bill, along with most of his fellow Democrats and most Republicans as well.
In explaining his support, Moskowitz recounted the night of the shooting, when he flew back from Tallahassee after his wife called him crying as he sat at his desk on the House floor. He recalled thinking at the funeral of shooting victim Peter Wang what he would do if he had to bury his own 4-year-old son, who was at a preschool a few blocks from Stoneman Douglas when the shooting happened. What pajamas would he put him in. Which "Star Wars" toys would go in the ground with him.
And he talked about the failures to protect schoolchildren, from the school resource officer onsite to federal officials' inability to pass gun reform.
"My community cannot handle another level of government failing them," he said.
The governor vowed to get a package of school-safety reforms approved before the end of the legislative session.
"This state will never be the same," Scott said. "My goal is to make sure that we make the changes necessary to make sure this never happens in our state again."
His proposals include hardening schools, increasing the presence of law enforcement officers and widening access to mental health services and raising the age for owning a firearm to 21.
In contrast to the raucous response from gun control activists that greeted the bill at a Senate hearing Monday, the House and Senate Appropriations committees Tuesday featured grieving mothers, fathers and students from Parkland, who mostly welcomed the bills as a good first step but implored the committee to do more.
There was none of the chanting and interruptions of Monday's meeting, but there were plenty of tears.
"Our children lost a friend, our friend lost a daughter, the world lost an amazing person who could change the world," said Parkland resident Amber Hersh. "This is your opportunity. The world is watching."
An assault-weapons ban was voted down largely along party lines in both committees, with every Republican voting against it except state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, who said he thought it was important that the Legislature have a conversation about a ban.
Those voting against the amendment included state Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale.
"I would not support an out-and-out ban. People ultimately have a right to defend themselves who are law-abiding citizens who are not mentally disturbed," Moraitis said after the meeting.
Along with an age limit on firearms purchases that currently only applies to handguns, the bill would spend $100 million on school building security measures plus hundreds of millions more on additional school safety and mental health programs.
"It is a comprehensive bill that we have worked extensively on," bill sponsor Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said "and I think that it would have prevented this tragedy."
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill along similar lines. With the addition of the Oliva amendment, the Senate version now differs from the House in the marshal program, and also has a process by which law enforcement can get a court order to take away someone's guns.
The House bill features a ban on both sale and possession of bump stocks, accessories that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire at near-automatic rates. The Senate version bans only the sale of bump stocks.
Funding was attached to the Senate version in committee Tuesday, including $400 million, $200 million of it that will be funded year over year, and $200 million in one-time-only funding.
The recurring money includes $100 million to fund mental health programs in schools, and another $75 million would go to school safety programs, including more school resource officers.
The nonrecurring money includes $15.5 million to replace Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting took place, and build a memorial. Another $67 million would go toward creating the marshal's program. A little over $90 million more would go to school hardening projects.
(c)2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)