Bill allowing Florida teachers to carry concealed weapons heads to final vote

  • Kenya Woodard
  • Post Capital Correspondent
8:47 p.m Saturday, March 3, 2018 Politics
Police walk past memorials on the fence in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday morning. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

In a rare Saturday session, a school safety bill that includes a “school marshal” program allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools passed its second reading in the Senate.

After hours of debate on a series of amendments, senators approved the controversial program along with the $67 million to fund it. It’s also included in the House version of the bill (HB 7101), which is up for its second reading on Monday, the same day a final vote on the Senate bill (SB 7026) is scheduled.

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The marshal program has drawn considerable opposition not only from parents and survivors of the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, but also from Democrats and the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.

Gov. Rick Scott also opposes it, calling instead for the hire of more school resource officers.

On Saturday, Miami Gardens Democratic leader Oscar Braynon proposed an amendment to remove the marshal program from the bill. It narrowly died in a 20-18 vote.

Another amendment filed by Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart to ban assault weapons also died in a 20-17 vote.

Sen. David Simmons, R – Altamonte Springs, said the amendment didn’t “pass constitutional muster.”

“It’s just not good sense,” he said.

Steward disagreed, calling assault weapons “killing machines” that “are not weapons that protect our homes.”

A ban on assault-style weapons is also cause for tension among lawmakers, with Democrats split over whether to support the package without that language and Republican House members torn between voting against the powerful National Rifle Association, which opposes the bills, or against a measure framed by GOP leaders as essential for making schools safer.

In stunning turn of events, the Senate briefly did approve on a voice vote Braynon’s amendment calling for a two-year moratorium on sales of the AR-15, giving the Florida Department of Law Enforcement time to conduct a study on instituting a permanent ban.

But moments later, it was resurrected for reconsideration and died in a 21-17 roll-call vote.

After the session, Braynon said he “wanted to believe it passed,” but “I’ve been here long enough to know what will happen.”

“We used to do nothing on gun violence,” he said. “I have to take solace in that we’re doing something when we used to do nothing.”

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Democrats presented a host of amendments but only one – by Sen. Randolph Bracy of Orlando – passed. It requires participants in the marshal program to undergo 12 hours of diversity training.

At a press conference hosted by the Democratic caucus, Braynon said Democrats were “collectively disappointed” that many of the amendments proposed by members of his party failed to pass.

But should the bill pass, members are “hopeful this is the beginning of a conversation” on gun control that could lead to Florida shaking its moniker as the “Gunshine State,” he said.

Braynon said it’s likely that the bill’s passing could affect the November election and change the makeup of the Senate.

“These are the types of things that lead to people not getting elected,” he said. “I saw a few people pushing that red button that may regret that.”

Under the Senate version, school boards and school superintendents would have to agree to the marshal program, and county sheriffs would be responsible for training and deputizing teachers or other school personnel who volunteer. But sheriffs would not be required to place volunteer marshals inside schools.

In contrast, the House plan was amended to require sheriffs to implement the program, if school districts decide they want to use it.

The program would allow teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons on campus after completing 132 hours of training under the auspices of a sheriff’s department. According to both bills, that training includes an 80-hour block of instruction on firearms, including 8 hours of instruction on active shooters and four hours learning defensive tactics.

The bills also already have additional funding – $75 million in the Senate proposal and nearly $100 million in the House measure – that schools can use for resource officers.