Legislation to mandate additional school safety recommendations cleared its final committee Thursday and heads now to the Senate floor for a full vote.
The bill, which passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, included a strike-all amendment providing clarifications and additions to the previous bill.
Under the amended bill, school districts would be required to report alternative disciplinary actions such as in-school suspension, suspension or peer counseling to appropriate authorities, sheriff’s offices overseeing the state’s guardian program to review psychological and drug test reports before approving members to the program, add night and low-light firearms training for guardians and provide potential criminal penalties to people who file false tips about potential safety threats.
“This is a very important matter that we continue to deal with year in and year out. All of the changes and the technical additions here are very important to try to keep our kids safe,” said bill sponsor Sen. Manny Diaz. “Every parent should have the confidence to send their kids to school in the state of Florida and have the confidence that they’re going to come home.”
The requirement to review results from psychological and drug testing, which is a carryover from the original bill language, would save the state money, Diaz said.
“Because we would have assurance that the applicant has been cleared before we start the training,” he said.
Under the existing guardian program, which allows certain volunteer school personnel to carry guns on campus if they pass appropriate training and background reviews, participants go through the process before being fully vetted, meaning some volunteers might be disqualified after funds have already been expended for their training.
The bill also requires three additional members for the MSD Commission, which would include a school superintendent, classroom teacher and a principal. Future replacements on the commission must give consideration “to achieving equal balance of school district, law enforcement and health care professional representation which reflects the cultural diversity of the state.”
Sworn law enforcement school safety officers would have to complete mental health crisis intervention training using curriculum developed by a national organization with expertise in mental health crisis intervention. That training would strengthen the officer’s response skills to students experiencing an emotional disturbance or mental illness and would provide skills to de-escalate interactions between students and officers.
The revised bill would also require districts to adopt by Aug. 1, 2021, a reunification plan for families and students in the event of a natural or man-made disaster or mass casualty event. The provision aims to reduce the chance of having a chaotic situation in which families do not know where to find their child if a school has been evacuated.
The plan would be created in coordination with the Division of Emergency Management, other federal, state and local law enforcement, fire and rescue and first responder agencies.
The bill would also require a commission report to Gov. Ron DeSantis by Aug. 1, 2020, outlining mental health recommendations, best practices and draft legislation for future consideration.
“On Valentine’s Day two years ago, all of our lives changed,” Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley said, noting lawmakers made a promise to Parkland survivors then that action would be taken and improvements continually sought to avoid future tragedies.
“This is the latest step in that journey,” Bradley said. “It is a journey that is not going to end. May our kids remain safe and may we not leave any stone unturned.”
A comparable measure in the House (HB 7065) is also ready for a full vote by that chamber.