School safety bill passes with amendment addressing youth arrests

mcghee
The Democratic amendment on the Republican bill was a rare moment of bipartisanship.

Members of both sides of the House united to pass school safety legislation, including an amendment sparked by video of a 6-year-old being arrested last year.

The legislation highlights continued impacts from the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on policy in Tallahassee even after the national focus has turned to other issues. This time, the measure was addressed with bipartisan support and without opposition.

House members unanimously backed the measure, which is slightly different than the Senate’s school-safety package. With less than two weeks remaining in the 2020 Legislative Session, those differences will need to be ironed out between the two chambers in the coming days.

One variation in the two bills deals with the arrests of young school children.

The included amendment to HB 7065, sponsored by House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, requires police departments and schools to have policies in place surrounding the arrest of children younger than 10 years old. It was adopted, which is a rare situation late in the session. The Republican sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ralph Massulo, called it a friendly addition.

An Orlando police officer arrested Kaia Rolle last September after she threw a tantrum at her charter school. Because she hit and kicked school staff, she was charged with misdemeanor battery. The officer, who has since been fired, also arrested a 6-year-old boy from that school. 

The body camera footage, showing a crying Kaia being handcuffed, caused national outrage after it came to light last month. From the floor of the House, McGhee told Kaia, who was watching with her grandmother Meralyn Kirkland from the House gallery, that her cries did not go unheard. 

“When we see our names on that board, that’s because we are stewards of your future, of your maturity,” he said. “And that we do not believe in criminalizing childhood tantrums.”

“A temper tantrum is no basis for handcuffs, restraints in a police car or mugshots. Our system should not be in the business of criminalizing childhood, especially when we are dealing with 6-year-old children,” McGhee later told The News Service of Florida in an interview.

Kirkland told the News Service Kaia still has nightmares about her arrest, and she is seeing a therapist because of the incident.

“It is unimaginable, what it actually does to your family. After speaking to co-workers, friends and family members, I found out that many of them, although they are parents, they were not aware that this was possible for their child,” Kirkland said.

Senate legislation that would have set a minimum age of arrest of children, however, was not heard in Tuesday’s Senate Appropriations Committee even as the little girl and her grandma were on hand to testify.

Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy’s amendment to Sen. Jeff Brandes’ sweeping criminal justice bill (SB 1308) would have prohibited law enforcement from arresting or charging a child younger than 10 with misdemeanor crimes unless they were accused of committing a forcible felony such as murder, kidnapping, or sexual battery. 

Other aspects of the school safety legislation include language that would allow law enforcement to investigate and possibly charge people who intentionally give false information through the state’s reporting tool, called FortifyFL.

It would also strengthen the process for school superintendents to possibly lose their pay if their district is not compliant with school safety laws passed in the wake of Parkland, including more secure infrastructure, more state accountability and armed security on every campus. 

School districts and charter schools would also have to implement plans to reunite students with their parents after an emergency and adds mental health crisis training requirements for law enforcement and armed security on campuses.

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Content from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected]



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