Senate Education Chair Manny Diaz says he hopes to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the school safety legislation over the weekend.
The House has already passed its version of the bill (HB 7065), with amendment requiring police departments to have written policies for the arrest of young children. It was motivated by video of a six-year-old being arrested last September. The Senate is considering adding language to its bill (SB 7040) that would set a minimum age of arrest in the state.
Diaz says the House doesn’t like the current language, which would prohibit children under 10 years of age from being arrested for misdemeanors. The issue is opposition from police departments, who don’t want their hands tied in making arrests.
“At the end of the day, schools don’t arrest people,” he said. “When you call for a police officer and they arrive and you hand the situation over to them, it becomes their case and they make the ultimate decisions.”
The House measure would allow law enforcement to investigate and possibly charge people who intentionally give false information through the state’s reporting app, called FortifyFL.
It also strengthens 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. The measure provides that the education commissioner can require the district school board to withhold the superintendent’s salary if the state’s Office of Safe Schools discovers that a district is out of compliance.
School districts and charter schools also must 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.
The Senate version, sponsored by Diaz, remains stalled. The legislation was put forward to implement safety recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission (MSD Commission) and a grand jury impaneled by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Diaz says the discussions are ongoing. Some of the issues center around penalties for noncompliance of school districts and charter schools with the new rules, the minimum age of arrest and giving the commissioner of education subpoena power for investigations into allegations of school safety violations in school districts.