Florida House approves school safety legislation

Bill sent to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter, CURT ANDERSON, BRENDAN FARRINGTON and JOSH REPLOGLE, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida House passed a school safety bill Wednesday that includes new restrictions on rifle sales and a program to arm some teachers, sending the measure to the governor for his signature.

The vote of 67-50 reflected a mix of Republicans and Democrats in support and opposition. The measure, a response to the shootings at a Parkland high school that left 17 dead, is supported by the victims' families.

How each House member voted

Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter Meadow in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and Ryan Petty, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Alaina, said there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.

Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs said she did not like the idea of arming teachers, but she voted yes.

"There is a cultural divide in this room, in this state and across the country. And there's a bill before us that is not perfect," said Jacobs, whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, said raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 was unconstitutional, and he voted no.

"There are grossly unconstitutional provisions in it relating to gun rights, especially for adults between 18 and 21, which poisons the bill," Fant said. "That's something that certainly is going to be probably struck down at some point if the governor signs that."

Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, also voted no.

"This is by far the hardest vote I've ever taken and, probably, ever will take to an elected office," Byrd said. "I support the mental health funding. I will vote for the budget, which provides more funding for the budget for mental health and more money to protect our kids in our schools. But, once again, I just could not vote for something that violates our constitutional rights."

The bill would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and create a waiting period on sales of the weapons. It would also create a so-called guardian program that would let school employees and many teachers carry handguns if they go through law enforcement training and if the school district decides to participate in the program.

Other provisions would create new mental health programs for schools; establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats to schools, ban bump stocks and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

Fant, who is running for attorney general, said the gun restrictions violate the Constitution.

"I just can't imagine that Nikolas Cruz can commit such a heinous crime and then as a result we tell, potentially, a 20-year-old single mother living alone that she cannot purchase a firearm to defend herself," Fant said.

The Florida Senate narrowly passed the bill Monday. Gov. Rick Scott declined to say Wednesday whether he would sign the legislation.

Scott has repeatedly said he doesn't support arming teachers and pushed lawmakers to adopt his proposal, which called for at least one law enforcement officer in every school and one for every thousand students who attend a school.

"I'm going to take the time and I'm going to read the bill and I'm going to talk to families," Scott told reporters.

Many lawmakers spent Tuesday and Wednesday arguing for the bill, which is mostly what the House and Scott proposed.

"This is about life and death," Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, told his colleagues. "By our vote today, I believe that we can affect a nation. Not many votes you can say that of."

But other lawmakers were unwilling to support the sweeping bill.

“Each and every day, black and brown boys and girls face the threat of gun violence whenever they leave their homes," Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, said in a statement. "This issue affects our communities in a way that some in this chamber will never understand."

"The absence of a provision in this legislation that directly speaks to (the) Stand Your Ground law gives all school staff the ability to claim impunity and turn schools into a place where children could fear for their lives at the hands of their own teachers and staff," said Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando.

Observers said the bill has strained the normal political process.

"A lot of other things have kind of fallen by the wayside, but it's such an important issue that I think a lot of the people are OK with that because, at the end of the day, all the legislators and the governor’s office, they all want to make sure our schools are safe," said Kevin Doyle of Wexford Strategies.

"A lot of folks are in their seats. A lot of folks are watching. They are weighing the decision. They're thinking (about the) calls they've gotten, emails they've gotten and they continue to get," Plakon said. "And basically, they are struggling. They're going to decide when the bell rings and it's time to push one of the buttons -- that's really when they'll make the decision."

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.