After hours of debate, the Florida House on Wednesday narrowly passed the $400 million Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act. The vote was 67-50. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott who will decide whether to allow the big to become law.
The legislation would put more money into mental health services, provide more school resource officers, harden school facilities and toughen gun laws in an effort to prevent another mass shooting like what happened in Parkland three weeks ago today.
Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was among the 17 students and teachers killed in Parkland, was in the chamber for the vote.
“I want you all to look at me and understand I want to be the last father to bury a kid that was killed in a school,” said Andy Pollack.
Pollack, along with Ryan Petty whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was also killed in the shooting, spent the past couple of days in Tallahassee lobbying lawmakers in support of the school safety bill.
“The families of the victims at Stoneman Douglas are part of a club that no one wants to be a member of,” said Petty. “We want to shut down that club forever.”
While the bill had many provisions that were supported by both sides of the aisle.There were significant differences in the views of lawmakers.
The main area of contention was a $67 million guardian program that would allow certain school personnel who are specially trained and certified by law enforcement to carry concealed weapons on campus to help protect students in the event of an active shooter.
House Democrats opposed the measure saying it will put more guns in schools.
“You all know that if this was out of the bill, you’d most likely have a unanimous vote. We would have walked out of here in unison,” said Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach.
The proposal originally applied to all teachers, but the Senate voted on Monday to exclude classroom teachers from the so-called “marshal program,” which it renamed the Aaron Feis Guardian Program. Feis was the football coach who was killed in the Parkland attack using his body to shield students from bullets.
Teachers in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, a current member of U.S. Reserves or National Guard, and current or former law enforcement officers, would be the only classroom teachers permitted to participate in the program.
Gov. Rick Scott has said he would oppose any school safety legislation that would call for the arming of teachers. He has not said whether he supports the program as it now stands.
The legislation also toughens gun laws, including the establishment of a three-day waiting period on gun sales, raising the minimum age 21 for buying any firearm in Florida, and banning the sale of bump stocks.
The bill also would allow law enforcement to seize firearms of anyone being held under the state’s Baker Act. Authorities could hold those firearms for up to 24 hours and longer if they obtain a court order.
Although Democrats opposed the guardianship program and believed the bill should have included a ban on the sale of assault rifles, some said there was enough good in the measure to support it.
Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, called the bill imperfect. But she said lawmakers owed it to the students who traveled from Parkland to Tallahassee two weeks ago to urge lawmakers to do something to prevent another school shooting.
“Though this bill is not a perfect bill. It’s so imperfect and it makes it so hard to vote for,” said Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville. “But I stand in support of this bill because blood is crying out from the ground in South Florida.”