The Florida Senate passed its school safety plan Monday evening intended to prevent another mass school shooting like the one that occurred in Parkland nearly three weeks go.
“Maybe we can’t stop everything,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who has been the Senate’s point-person on the issue. “I am not that naive. But I know there are things we can do to make it more difficult and there are things we can do to mitigate.”
The vote was 20-18 in favor of the what is being called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act.
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, was among the senators who voted yes. She represents the district where the high school is located. She arrived at the scene of the shooting shortly after it happened and spent a lot of time with the families of the victims and the surviving students.
“Do I think this bill goes far enough? No. No I don’t,” Book said. “But what I disagree with more is the idea of our allowing the great to be the enemy of the good and letting the session come to a close without some meaningful legislation.”
In a move intended to head-off critics, including Gov. Rick Scott, who oppose arming school teachers as part of a state school safety plan, the Florida Senate amended its bill to remove classroom teachers from those who would be eligible to carry a concealed weapon on school campuses.
“The whole goal is to try to limit the amount of individuals that can carry guns in the classroom,” said Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, who sponsored the amendment.
Scott has made no secret that he opposes any plan to arm teachers, known as the “school marshall program” in both the Senate and House. Scott has proposed hiring more school resource officers instead of arming teachers.
“The Governor has been very clear – he wants teachers to teach and law enforcement to protect our communities,” said Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for Scott. “His position has not changed. He will review any final bill that makes it to his desk.”
Democrats were quick to point out that the amendment would still allow gym instructors, guidance counselors, librarians and other education personnel to carry concealed weapons.
Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, proposed his own amendment that would have excluded all instructional personnel.
“I’m not going to belabor the point, members, you’ve got to decide whether you want guns in the actual classroom? Do you want them in that close proximity to the students?” Farmer asked.
His amendment was defeated.
While arming teachers remained a dividing point during Monday’s debate, both sides praised the portion of the $400 million school safety package that sets aside over a $100 million for improvements to mental health services. The measure would provide funding for mobile crisis teams working under the authority of the Department of Children and Families, as well as mental health assistance and mental health first aid training for schools.
“I supported a ban on assault weapons. I support not arming teachers. For me that’s a deal breaker,” said Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “But I also support the fact, that if this bill pass, we’re doing more for the mental health of our students than we have ever done and that’s commendable.”
There have been questions raised about how law enforcement and school officials missed several warning signs that should have raised red flags about the mental health of the 19-year-old gunman in the Parkland shooting, Nikolas Cruz. It was nearly three weeks ago that Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15 assault gun and started shooting. He killed 17 students and teachers.
One of those teachers, Aaron Feis, a football coach who was killed using his body to shield students from bullets was honored Monday by the Senate by naming its marshall program the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.”
The House has a similar version of the marshall program in its school safety legislation.
Both proposals also include changes to gun laws. They would impose a three-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, raise the minimum age for purchasing a rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21, and ban the sale of bump stocks.
The bill would also 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.
The House is scheduled to take up its plan on Wednesday with the goal of getting a bill to the governor’s desk by Friday, the scheduled closing day of the legislative session.