- Kenya Woodard Post Capital Correspondent
The measure drawing perhaps the most controversy in the Florida Legislature’s quickly drafted bill in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting is the so-called “school marshal” program — a program that could lead to armed teachers in schools.
It, and $67 million to pay for it, is included in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, with minor differences, such as a one-time $500 stipend for teachers in the program in the House bill.
Gov. Rick Scott, however, opposes arming teachers.
This would seem to set the scene for a possible showdown between the Republican governor and his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature if the final bill still includes the program when it reaches his desk for his signature — except that it’s unclear whether Scott has any options for stopping the program.
With Douglas High survivors and parents pressing Scott and lawmakers to improve school safety, it’s unlikely the governor would veto the bill.
Scott could use a line item veto if the funding allocation were included in the budget bill, but it’s unclear if he can do the same thing with allocations in policy bills such as the school safety legislation, Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana said.
“We know he can veto line items,” she said. “We don’t know if he can veto appropriations in policy bills.”
Scott on Thursday avoided answering if he would strike money for the program and instead reiterated his push for more law enforcement officers in schools. He has said he wants at least one sheriff’s deputy or police officer for every 1,000 students in a school.
“I’ve made it very clear that we have significant officer presence in schools, but I do not support arming teachers,” he said.
The marshal program has drawn considerable opposition not only from Douglas High survivors and parents but from Democrats and the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, but it’s still included, with slight variations, in both the House bill (HB 7101) and Senate version (SB 7026), which the Senate will take up today in a rare Saturday session.
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 last week 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-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.
The marshal program is not the only aspect of the package heightening tension for lawmakers. Democrats are split over whether to support the package without the ban on assault-style weapons. Republican House members are 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.
Berman said she voted for the bill in committee, in part after hearing the support of teachers, parents, school board members and others.
But after listening Wednesday to Linda Beigel Schulman – whose son, Scott Beigel, died protecting students from a hail of bullets – Berman is more ambivalent.
While she opposes “arming teachers,” she said, “I’m still not sure how I’m going to vote when it’s on the House floor. It’s not just South Florida Democrats who are conflicted. I think we’re all internally conflicted.”
Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said she hasn’t taken a position on the bill.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet until I see the final product,” she said.
Slosberg said she “doesn’t necessarily support arming teachers” but wouldn’t be opposed to teachers who are retired military participating in the program.
“I think they should have that option,” she said.