In wake of Parkland shooting, Senate focuses on mental health funding
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart speaks on the Senate rostrum Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

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As the country grapples with the aftermath of a high school mass shooting in Broward County, Senate President Joe Negron said Thursday the upper chamber will be focused on boosting funding for mental health and campus security — not gun control.

“I think that the key for me — and what I am focusing on — is making sure that people who have mental instabilities or mental health issues don’t have access to firearms,” Negron told reporters.

When asked about measures that have stalled in the Legislature that would limit access to semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, Negron said that is not the Senate’s focus. The suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was armed with an AR-15 rifle that was legally purchased in the state.

“My focus is on making sure that lawful citizens who are obeying the law and are entitled to their constitutional rights have appropriate access to firearms,” he said.

Offering their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson echoed Negron’s priorities and said he is asking senators to support an $100 million in funding for mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

“It’s imperative that a portion of this allocation goes toward ensuring that we have the necessary number of armed resource officers at our schools across Florida,” Galvano said. “We must identity where the gaps exist and immediately work to fill them.”

“Sen. Galvano and I have had some preliminary discussions about that,” Senate Appropriations Committee chair Rob Bradley said Thursday. “Right now, the Senate is at $40 million … reorienting monies to make that higher is something we need to take seriously. Our school facilities should be appropriately hardened.”

When asked about state gun control legislation, he added: “The federal government has restrictions on a lot of these specific types of weapons … It’s a 50-state problem. But there should not be any sacred cows. OK?

“I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter. I always have been. I believe it is a fundamental right under the Constitution. But I also think the Constitution does not guarantee a mentally ill person the right to have a weapon.”

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said there was an armed officer on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time of the deadly shooting, but the officer never encountered the suspect.

“We are working today to immediately identify and direct funding to hardening our schools and provide for armed resource officers on every campus for safety and prevention,” Simpson said.

Meanwhile, legislation that would have loosened the application process for concealed weapon permits has snarled in the Senate due to the “timing” and “sensitivity” of the recent tragedy, Negron said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam   who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout”  worked to tuck language into an agriculture-related bill that would allow permits to be processed even when there is an incomplete background check on a person.

The proposal was scheduled for a hearing Thursday, but was postponed due to the shooting. Whether it will be heard again, Negron said, is up to the bill sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel.

As Senate leadership pushes for these issues, a bipartisan group of House members has sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran asking to match the funding proposed by the chamber that would go to school safety and mental health services.

“Currently, the Senate has proposed that the Safe Schools allocation be increased by about $14 million while in the House no increase is being proposed within the current budget,” the letter states. “In addition, the Senate has proposed $40 million toward mental health for schools, while the House has proposed no specific appropriations for mental health care in schools.”

Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Ana Ceballos

Ana covers politics and policy Before joining the News Service of Florida she wrote for the Naples Daily News and was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.


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