Fla. may shift domestic security money to schools
Florida's anti-terrorism efforts could be undercut by a proposal that would shift millions of dollars intended for domestic security programs for use in efforts to bolster security at schools, some officials say.
Top emergency management and law-enforcement officials in the last few days have begun raising alarms about a spending proposal being pushed by state Senate leaders. Their concerns have mounted after last week's deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Bryan Koon, Florida's emergency management chief, said the plan would take away money intended to help the state's first responder teams and data-mining efforts used to identify potential terrorist threats.
He also questioned the idea of tapping all of the state's current federal grants for the sole purpose of boosting security at schools.
"This is not a business where you can put all your eggs in one basket," Koon said.
But Senate leaders are motivated by another recent tragedy: The massacre of young children and educators last December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton and chairman of the Senate budget committee that oversees school spending, said legislators have heard this session from school district officials about the need to improve the security at Florida schools.
Galvano said legislators want schools to be "better prepared to respond" if "God forbid we saw a situation like Sandy Hook." He said that it's up to legislators, not state agency officials, to decide how to spend the money.
The Senate proposal is one of many caught up in ongoing budget negotiations in the last two weeks of the annual session. House leaders so far have refused to go along with the Senate plan to shift $10.3 million in federal domestic security grants over to school security efforts.
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami and chairman of the House budget committee, said the Senate is shifting money from an incorrect source to respond to current events.
"It's an easy way ....to get an optic victory that we are doing something about school safety," Fresen said.
Florida has gotten tens of millions from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for domestic security programs since the September 2011 attacks. But the annual amount of federal grants has steadily decreased over the last few years.
Koon said the bulk of money now received is used to sustain the state's current anti-terrorism efforts. A domestic security group established under state law makes recommendations on how the money should be spent.
A sheet prepared by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Office of Domestic Security shows that without the federal grants, 40 positions would be eliminated, including analysts who provide intelligence to local police departments and sheriff's offices.
The Florida Department of Education has received nearly $17 million since 2008 for security efforts. The state's domestic security oversight council recommended setting aside money for a handful of school-related projects, including equipment that would allow Florida State University to monitor crowds remotely.
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