Debate on a school safety plan was pushed back a day in the Senate and members will now meet in a rare Saturday session to begin discussing the chamber’s legislation intended to prevent another Parkland school shooting from happening again in Florida.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the point person on the Senate’s school safety plan, says the decision to delay action was procedural–the result of a number of amendments being proposed to the bill. And, because of House rules, the Senate bill has to be sent to the lower chamber by Wednesday in order for the House to act on it before the last day of session next Friday. So, the Senate decided to meet Saturday to make sure it met the deadlines.
“I do not want to delay consideration of Senate Bill 7026 until next week, possibly affecting the House’s ability to hear the Senate Bill,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said in a memo to members Friday morning. “Holding a sitting on Saturday is the best option for both working within our existing rules and affording this legislation the serious time and consideration it deserves.
Although some members describe the process behind the scenes as “chaotic,” Galvano says the main principles of Senate bill haven’t changed.
“The substance of our bill is still the same,” Galvano said. “We still have the mental health piece, the school hardening piece, the firearms safety piece and the ‘school marshal’ program is still in the bill.”
But,the marshal program puts legislators at odds with Gov. Rick Scott. The program would provide training for teachers and school staff to carry concealed weapons on school campuses to protect students if there is a threat to their safety.
Scott opposes the idea of arming teachers. Instead, he supports more school resource officers.
“I want to make sure there is a law enforcement presence in our schools. I don’t believe in arming the teachers,” Scott said Thursday.
The Senate version would leave it up to local sheriff offices and school districts to opt into a marshal program on a voluntary basis.
The House version of the bill would set aside $67 million for local sheriff offices to actually develop a marshal program to train and arm teachers. It would still be up to the school districts to decide whether to participate and sponsor teachers to undergo training.
“I’m going to fight for a voluntary program,” said Galvano.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill include gun control measures that have caused concern among gun rights advocates. They propose setting a minimum age of 21 for buying any firearm in Florida, establishing background checks on most gun sales and banning the sale of bump stocks. The NRA opposes those measures.
On the other side, Democrats say the legislation doesn’t go far enough. They are calling for a ban on the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons.
The gun legislation has raised questions about whether there is enough support in the House to pass the bill.
Galvano insists the Senate has the support needed to pass the legislation when the bill comes up for a final vote in the Senate on Monday.
“We’ve got the votes. We’ve got the votes,” he said.