Senate prepares to vote on school safety plan that would arm teachers, toughen gun laws

by | Mar 5, 2018

The debate on school safety will take center-stage Monday in the Florida Senate as members prepare to vote on the measure that would harden school facilities, improve mental health services in schools and strengthen gun laws in an effort to prevent another mass shooting that killed 17 students and teachers in Parkland nearly three weeks ago.

Monday’s debate and vote on the Senate proposal follows a rare Saturday sitting of the chamber in which senators spent close to eight hours taking up amendments to the school safety measure (SB 7026).

“If anything has come out of that tragedy, it is the realization that we have not done enough to this point comprehensively to have mechanisms in place … to prevent this from occurring,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, on Saturday. Galvano has taken the lead in the Senate on the school safety issue.

Most of the amendments–nearly four dozen of them–taken up this weekend were filed by Democrats and most failed. Among those defeated were bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, the creation of a gun registry and allowing local governments to pass tougher gun laws.

Also rejected was a proposal to remove the so-called “school marshall program,” which would allow local school districts and sheriffs offices to work together to train school teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons during school hours. School personnel who would chose to participate would have to be deputized.

The House has a similar version of the marshall program in its school safety legislation. Both legislative proposals could put lawmakers at odds with Gov. Rick Scott, who has opposed the idea of arming teachers. Scott would rather see the state place more school resource officers on school campuses to keep students safe.

The Senate bill, which has been called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, would also 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.

It would also  provide funding for mental health issues. 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.

The $400 million package 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.

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 Senate is expected to pass its school safety bill Monday with the House taking up its plan on Wednesday with the plan of getting a bill to the governor’s desk by Friday, the scheduled closing day of the legislative session.


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