What are progressive Democrats to do when faced with an omnibus school safety and guns bill that has a few things they like but doesn’t have any of the major provisions they’ve insisted on, and also includes something that they worry might be a poison pill?
Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado of Orlando laid that out as their dilemma Saturday during a town hall meeting in Orlando. The meeting included high school students, survivors of the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, along with school representatives, teachers, a mental health organization and Orange County School Board Member Daryl Flynn.
Smith and Mercado heard what sounded like universal opposition to provisions in the House school safety and guns bill that would authorize teachers and other school employees to become gun-carrying marshals, a provision that the two lawmakers agreed they could not support.
And the bill doesn’t come anywhere near what Smith and Mercado have been pushing for their two years in the Legislature, bans on the sales of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Yet there are the provisions, in the current bill, providing funding for mental health services, and for school counselors, as well as the bill’s limited gun reforms, including raising the minimum age for purchases, and the banning of bump stocks.
Is this a take-what-you-can-get and fight for the rest later moment? Smith and Mercado sought constituents thoughts, heading into Monday’s beginning of a hectic final week.
With dozens of amendments already on file on the House side and an uncertain direction for the Senate’s version during Saturday’s special session, Smith and Mercado acknowledged they did not know the language of every amendment. Mercado noted that she has an amendment awaiting the House version to make sure potential school marshals aren’t covered by “Stand Your Ground” protections allowing them to shoot someone just out of fear.
But many of the items in the bills have been sought for years.
“There’s going to be a lot of things in this bill that we don’t like, but there are some things that we do like. Anything that is funding for mental health, as Representative Mercado and I said, there have been a lot of people yelling for that for a long time,” said Eric Welch, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando. “So anything that is funding for mental health… that we can get behind is certainly something that the mental health community can get behind.”
Many of the most powerful thoughts came from Pulse survivors talking about what they have suffered and what they have sought since that June 12, 2016, massacre in Orlando, and from students invited into the discussion from Orlando’s University High School, who spoke of how they have been affected by the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“It should not have to be that when I go to the bathroom in 7th period, and I’m concerned that, what if something happens and I’m in the bathroom? That’s not OK,” said University High student Athena Jain-etienne.
“I will provide in the future for my children so they will not have to have this concern… that they are not coming home,” she added.