Bill in response to Douglas High mass shooting poised for final vote

  • Kenya Woodard
  • Post Capital Correspondent
8:59 p.m Tuesday, March 6, 2018 Politics
People visit one of seventeen crosses following a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

After debating for hours Tuesday, the Florida House set up a vote that could come as early as Wednesday on a bill addressing gun access and school safety in Florida in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Broward County high school, including the implementation of a “school marshal plan” that would allow some school employees to carry firearms on campus.

A day after the Senate passed its Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act (SB 7026), the House took up the bill, which would make major changes to gun laws including imposing a three-day waiting period on the purchase of firearms, boosting the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 and banning the sale of bump stocks.

» RELATED: Post coverage of the Broward County shooting

House Democrats presented more than 30 amendments to the bill in the eight-hour long session Tuesday, all of which failed to capture a majority vote.

One by one, Republicans knocked down the proposed changes, including banning the sale of assault rifles, closing a private sale loophole, and requiring gun shop owners to secure firearms.

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

That keeps the Senate bill intact as it moves to its final vote in the House. If approved as is, it will be presented to Gov. Rick Scott for signing into law.

The bill allocates roughly $400 million for a host of initiatives, including hardening schools and funding mental health assistance. It also includes $67 million for a controversial “school marshal program” – named the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, in honor of the football coach who died protecting students – that would allow school employees to carry concealed weapons on campuses after completing 132 hours of training under the auspices of a sheriff’s department.

But the only teachers who could participate in the guardian program would be those in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, a current member of U.S. Reserves or National Guard, and current or former law enforcement officers. Other school staff also could volunteer for the program, but all other classroom teachers would be blocked from the program.

The proposed guardian program, first adopted by the Senate Monday, is a major change from the initial draft of the bill, which would have allowed any teacher undergoing training to carry firearms. The initial version sparked uproar from Douglas High survivors and parents, and opposition from Scott, leading to the Senate scaling back the program Monday. Scott has not yet commented on the scaling back of the program.

But that was still not enough for House Democrats Tuesday.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs and a Douglas High alumni, proposed an amendment to get the marshal program out of the bill and replace it with one that used retired law enforcement officers in schools.

“If this was a secret ballot, this program would be out of the bill,” Moskowitz told House members.

He said he spoke with GOP House leaders, urging them to strip the armed-educator program, to no avail. And in a final emotional entreaty on his amendment, Moskowitz noted that he graduated with Feis, who also attended Douglas High and was one of 17 victims – 14 students and three faculty members – to die in the shooting that sheriff’s deputies say was done by former student Nikolas Cruz, 19.

“He used his body to protect those students. It didn’t dawn on me when I went to the school and saw where he had dragged himself out of the building and died in front of the door, it never dawned on me, well, what if he had a gun. Never once,” Moskowitz said of Feis. “What dawned on me was that he was dead.”

Moskowitz’s amendment failed in a 71-42 vote, with two House Republicans — Shawn Harrison of Tampa and Rene Plasencia of Orlando — joining Democrats in favor of the proposal.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is gay, repeatedly tried to add gun restrictions to the proposal and finally offered an amendment that would steer money to create a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.

“Why now?” a choked-up Smith asked earlier in the day, wondering why lawmakers failed to act after the Pulse shooting.

House Rules & Policy Chairman Jose Oliva, the bill’s sponsor, said the reason was partly due to “timing,” because the Legislature was in session when the school shooting occurred.

“But I don’t want people to go away thinking there’s a greater value placed on certain lives than there are on others,” Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said. “Is it possible this was the last straw? Yes, but it wasn’t the only straw.”