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School safety bill up for vote in House

The House began debate Wednesday on the Legislature’s school safety bill, hastily crafted in response to the Valentine’s Day shooting at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed 17 lives.

The day before, the Republican-controlled chamber beat down a slew of amendments on the measure (SB 7026), including one aimed at deleting a ‘guardian program’ to train and arm school staff, excluding full-time classroom teachers.

But two parents who lost children in the shooting told reporters they support the legislation as is.

The idea is to make sure the bill doesn’t “bounce.” Amending the Senate bill in the House and then passing it would mean the bill would have to go back to the Senate, instead of straight to Gov. Rick Scott. Scott has said he opposes “arming teachers.”

Despite the House Democratic Caucus taking a position to oppose the bill, known as the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” one Broward County Democrat said she was voting for the measure.

“There is language in here that are lot of folks don’t love, but will support,” said Rep. Kristin Jacobs, whose district includes the high school, in Parkland. “We don’t support it because we love it but because we know it is the first of many steps, (and) when we take incremental steps, we get somewhere.

“We understand there are sections (in the bill) we can’t stomach, but we must move forward together,” she added.

Rep. Evan Jenne of Dania Beach, the House Democratic Caucus policy chair, noted lawmakers have all “been through a lot … this has not been a good last couple of weeks.”

He said he spoke with Parkland students, who made clear they “didn’t want more guns in their classrooms, that wasn’t going to make them feel safe.”

Jenne went on to say the bill “reads like the rough first draft of a Steven Seagal movie, like the cafeteria ladies are going to spring into action.”

Speaker Richard Corcoran later pointed out Ryan Petty in the gallery. His 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, died in the shooting.

“As families, we have different opinions and different backgrounds, but we came together and are united behind this legislation and our ask is that the House comes together, as the families have, to pass this bill,” said Petty, who later spoke to reporters.

“There are so many good things in the bill that it is hard for me to comprehend why you would be against this bill,” added Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter Meadow. “The majority of this bill is going to help the communities.”

Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican and medical doctor, was one of several who spoke up for the guardian program.

“We’re not requiring teachers to be armed; we are giving people who work in schools the option to be armed,” he said. “… If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”

House members continued to debate the bill as of 11 a.m. The last summary of the bill’s provisions is here.

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Capitol correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed reporting. 

Written By

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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