Calling what happened in Parkland a “senseless act of evil” that has been “heart wrenching” for the state, Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he will call state and local leaders together in Tallahassee next week to discuss ways of preventing another mass school shooting.
“Our entire state is in mourning, and we have to make sure something like this never happens again. The violence must stop,” Scott said in a statement. “We cannot lose another child in this country because of violence in our schools. We need to have a real conversation about public safety and protecting schools in our state.”
Scott says he is organizing meetings with state and local leaders in Tallahassee to discuss what can be done immediately to keep schools safe and keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill individuals.
Scott remained in Broward County Thursday where he has been receiving briefings from law enforcement, emergency management, and local school officials.
“As a father and grandfather, I cannot imagine the pain these families are going through, and Florida’s parents need to be able to wake up every morning and know their children are going to a safe school,” Scott said. “We have an opportunity right now during the ongoing legislative session to have this important conversation.”
Scott spoke with Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran about his intentions to hold discussions on the issue.
The alleged shooter, 19 year old Nikolas Cruz, was expelled and banned from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year after having a history of disciplinary issues. His behavior has been described as erratic and he had expressed a fascination with guns.
Negron wants to make certain that an individual with that kind of troubled history is unable to get a firearm in the future.
“Any person who has expressed violent tendencies, has been asked to be gone from campus to the extent where that has actually been taken notice of both verbally and in writing, obviously a person with those kinds of issues shouldn’t have access to a firearm,” Negron said.
Negron says he is committed to working with the governor and House leaders to find solutions. He points to a $40 million pilot program proposed by Sen. Kathleen Passimodo, R-Naples, that is intended to provide mental health services to students. That program was already included in the Senate version of the budget that was passed last week.
A bipartisan group of state representatives say more needs to be done. They are calling on Negron and Corcoran to increase funding in next year’s budget for school safety and mental health services. Among those signing the letter were two candidates for attorney general–Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa.
“Ensuring that the mental stability of our students, teachers, and staff are in a healthy state is something that we must prioritize without hesitation,” the representatives wrote. “Funds allocated toward Safe Schools and mental health services are steps we must be taking to ensuring that the right resources are in place to protect our schools during moments of critical danger.”
Wednesday’s tragic school shootings in South Florida has had an impact among legislators in Tallahassee, especially among those whose districts cover Broward County. There has been an outpouring of sympathy from lawmakers as well as proposals intended to prevent another tragic shooting in the state.
Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, filed an amendment Thursday to a student safety bill that would require at least one licensed, sworn law enforcement officer to be present and on duty at every public school in Florida during school hours.
“Having a law enforcement officer in every school is a commonsense measure and an important step in improving safety for students throughout Florida,” Geller said. “After days like yesterday, it’s crucial that we do more than speak about solutions; we must act quickly and effectively to prevent future horrific events from occurring.”
Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, assured Floridians that lawmakers recognize “the need for immediate action.”
“As elected leaders, we have no greater responsibility than protecting our children,” said Sen. Simpson. “Our schools should be shrines to learning and possibility where our students feel safe and secure. We are working today to immediately identify and direct funding to hardening our schools and provide for armed resource officers on every campus for safety and prevention.”
Some state lawmakers whose districts touch Broward County left Tallahassee early this week to travel back to their home to offer help and support to the community.
As a former Parkland resident, Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, says he was “heartbroken” by the news of the shootings.
“It is too late to stop the horrors of yesterday, but it is not too late to prevent tragedy from occurring tomorrow,” said Farmer. “What we saw yesterday is the direct result of a failure by the Legislature to act. The students of Parkland suffered from that failure, and in the wake of this tragedy, they are calling upon us to act.
Legislators appear to be in consensus that that something must be done. Gov. Scott acknowledged earlier today that “something needs to change.” We’ll have a better idea of what kind change that will be when Scott sits down next week with state and local leaders to discuss how to prevent another senseless shooting spree in Florida.