House debating amendments to school safety bill

By Angie Angers, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 07, 2018, 7:41 AM EST

The State House is set to cast a final vote on a gun violence prevention package that will have statewide ramifications. 

  • Some of the measures include program to arm school staff
  • Another item being considered is to increase age in sale of assault-style weapons
  • What's in the bill? READ THE DETAILS

A proposal to arm some teachers and school employees proved particularly contentious Tuesday as Florida representatives debated amendments to a school safety bill.

House members spent nearly three hours asking questions about the legislation, which would put some restrictions on rifle sales, provide new mental health programs from schools and improve communication between school districts, law enforcement and state agencies.

The Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County left 17 dead. Students' anger at the availability of guns, access to weapons by the mentally ill and school safety spurred lawmakers to act.

The House spent more than five hours considering more than three-dozen Democratic filed amendments, all of which failed. The first would have stripped language from the bill that would create a program to arm some teachers and school employees who have undergone law enforcement training. Several Democrats said they wouldn't vote for the bill if it included the so-called guardian program, which would put more guns in schools.

The amendment to strip out guardian language failed on 42-71 vote after more than an hour of a debate.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said polls show there's little support for arming teachers, yet overwhelming support for an assault rifle ban.

"So what do we have before us today? A proposal that arms teachers and does not ban military-style assault weapons," Smith said. "This is why people are so fed up with politics."

Families of the 17 people who were killed called on the state's Legislature to pass a bill they believe will improve school security. The Senate narrowly passed the bill Monday. The House will vote on it Wednesday. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday.

Local sheriffs are warning that Florida legislators are not setting aside enough money to ensure every school will have its own resource officer.

The Florida Sheriffs Association sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders that said setting aside enough money to pay for enough school resource officers is their "top priority."

Right now the Republican-controlled Legislature has crafted a bill that would set aside about $162 million to pay for school resource officers, a boost of $97 million over current amounts. Their bill includes $67 million to be used by sheriffs to set up a program to train and arm school employees. Scott last month recommended that legislators spend $250 million.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that it costs about $100,000 on average to hire and equip a law-enforcement officer, and Florida has about 3,800 schools.

"The reality is if we are going to put uniform law enforcement officer on every campus, it's got to be paid for," Gualtieri said. "I think there is clearly a citizen desire and expectation to do that. You can't meet that desire and expectation without the money to do it."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.