Signaling problems with a sweeping proposal aimed at making schools safer, Florida Senate leaders Friday ordered a rare Saturday floor session to begin debate on a measure that has become mired in controversy over allowing armed teachers in schools.
The Saturday session is planned as House and Senate leaders race against the clock to reach consensus on a bill before the annual legislative session ends on March 9.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sent a memo Friday morning announcing the Saturday floor session, saying the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Galvano, wanted “additional time to work on this important issue.” The Senate had been expected to take up the bill Friday.
Delaying consideration of the measure (SB 7026) until next week would affect the House’s ability to hear the Senate bill because of procedural reasons, Negron said.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has said his chamber will wait until the Senate acts on its proposal before taking up the issue. Galvano has been negotiating with one of Corcoran’s chief lieutenants, House Rules & Policy Chairman Jose Oliva, and Gov. Rick Scott for more than a week on the legislation.
Lawmakers scurried to craft the measure following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland that left 14 students and three faculty members dead.
Scott is among a growing group of opponents — including many Democrats, black lawmakers and some parents and students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — who object to what has been dubbed the “school marshal” program in House and Senate proposals. That program could lead to armed teachers in schools, something that President Donald Trump has advocated.
The legislative proposals also include new gun restrictions that have angered some Republicans and the National Rifle Association.
But lawmakers are under pressure from student survivors of the massacre, as well as parents, teachers and others, who are demanding that they act quickly to address school-safety, mental-health and gun-control issues. Among other things, the legislation would create a three-day waiting period for the purchase of guns in the state and raise the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of firearms.
Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had a lengthy history of mental health problems, is charged with using a semi-automatic rifle he purchased legally in Florida — with no waiting period — to mow down students and faculty at the Broward County school he once attended.
“Holding a sitting on Saturday is the best option for both working within our existing rules and affording this legislation the serious time and consideration it deserves,” Negron said in Friday’s memo.
The Senate will vote on the measure Monday, Negron said.
“My goal is to ensure the Senate has ample time to consider this important bill,” he said.
Meanwhile, Scott on Friday afternoon proclaimed Feb. 14 as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Remembrance Day in Florida and invited state residents to share a moment of silence at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 3. In the proclamation, Scott directs all state flags flown at half-staff on Feb. 14 of each year.