With three weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators find themselves facing the pressing issue of school safety.
“We’ve got to figure this out,” Scott told a group of law enforcement representatives called to Tallahassee by the governor to look for ways to improve school safety. “We gotta figure out how do we make sure a parent says ‘I’m comfortable my child is going to go to school and they’re going to come home safe.’”
Following last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in which 17 people were killed, Scott declared it was time to have a “real conversation” about school safety. His office invited educators, law enforcement officials, mental health experts and others to Tallahassee to look for ways to prevent school shootings like what occurred in Parkland.
They spent Tuesday in a series of meetings discussing ways to make students safer. They were tasked with the duty of looking for ways to harden schools in order to make them more secure, looking at possible changes to gun laws and addressing mental health issues.
Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who police say walked into Douglas High last Wednesday and opened fire with an AR-15 assault style weapon, had a history of mental health issues but he was still able to purchase the gun he allegedly used to commit the shootings.
The group addressed the mental health care issue, specifically the state’s Baker Act which allows for the 72-hour involuntary commitment of a person who is considered a danger to themselves or someone else. Under current law, a person who has been Baker Acted can obtain a gun once they are released. Law enforcement members suggested such a person should be required to wait a certain period of time and be required to go before a judge before they could obtain a confiscated weapon or purchase a firearm.
The group also discussed the need for additional school resource officers in the state’s schools
One of the ideas that stirred a lot of discussion would allow school districts to arm teachers and staff to help protect students in the event of a school shooting. The idea has the backing of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
“The only place in the state of Florida that we herd our children up and send them where they can’t be protected by a gun is our schools,” Judd said. “We believe that has got to change.”
Judd says there is just no way for law enforcement to prevent an active school shooter once an attack begins. He says it takes officers at least five minutes to respond to an incident, by then lives have already been lost. He says arming designated teachers and staff could help save lives.
“It’s not something that we want to do it, it is something we have to do if you want a game changer,” Judd said.
A bill currently being considered by state lawmakers would allow principals to designate certain teachers and staff to carry a concealed weapon. The designated individuals would have to undergo special training. The bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday afternoon, but was postponed.
Scott said last week that “everything’s on the table” when it comes to making schools safer. But one of the ideas that has received a lot of attention in the past week was removed from the table by the Florida House.
Legislation was filed last year that would have banned the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Florida. It has not been taken up by lawmakers during this session. The bill was handed a setback on the floor of the House Tuesday afternoon. Democrats tried to use a parliamentary procedure to bring the legislation up for a vote, but the measure was defeated on mostly party lines.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, told members at the close of Tuesday’s session to keep coming up with ideas addressing the school safety problem.
“Continue to give us your ideas,” Corcoran said. “The goal would be that we would come up with a very substantive, bipartisan bill that will do momentus work in keeping our children safe.”
The ideas discussed during Tuesday’s workshops will be reviewed by the governor and his staff in the coming days. Scott says he will release a plan to address school safety in Florida on Friday. State lawmakers will then have two weeks to address those parts of the plan that require legislative action.
“Those two weeks after Friday we’re going to get something done,” Scott said Tuesday evening as he wrapped up the day of meetings on school safety. “It’s not fair to our kids.”