Minimum age of arrest amendment to school safety bill dies

Randolph Bracy and Meralyn Kirkland
In Florida, a child at any age can be arrested.

School safety legislation is teed up for a vote in the Senate. But an amendment setting a minimum age of arrest in Florida is dead for this Session.

Sen. Randolph Bracy withdrew an amendment that would have prohibited the arrest of children 6 years old or younger. He said Rules Committee Chair Lizabeth Benaquisto would have raised a point of order regarding his amendment because it had not gone through the committee process. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Manny Diaz introduced a strike-all amendment that combines the recommendations from the Majority Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission and HB 7065.

Some of the aspects would include beefing up training requirements for dealing with mental health issues and giving parents information about available behavioral health resources at the school or in the community, including community action treatment teams. Sheriff’s offices must review and approve each applicant’s psychological evaluation before accepting them into the school guardian program. That was the recommendation of the grand jury because people had been getting the guardian training and then been found psychologically unfit. 

It mandates that the commission must include three members that are either school superintendents, principals or classroom teachers; and another two members recommended by the president of the NAACP Florida State Conference and the Florida Consortium of Urban League Affiliates.

It also dictates school districts’ student codes of conduct include criteria for assigning students to diversion programs for minor violations. The strike-all additionally requires the state to set up guidance for emergency drills policies and procedures. School boards must set up emergency family reunification plans by Aug. 1, 2021.

It also includes language that would allow law enforcement to investigate and possibly charge people who intentionally give false information through the state’s app for tips, called FortifyFL. 

The House amended HB 7065 to require police departments to develop policies surrounding the arrests of children younger than 11 years old. It’s named “The Kaia Rolle Act.” Kaia is a 6-year-old girl who was arrested at her Orlando charter school last September for throwing a tantrum. The body camera footage drew national outrage.

Bracy, whose constituents include Kaia and her grandmother Meralyn Kirkland, had been fighting for a way to get an amendment through to set a minimum age of arrest in Florida. He tried to get an amendment barring the arrest of kids 10 years old and younger on SB 1308, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, but it died in committee. 

Bracy had worked out a compromise amendment with House and Senate leadership for the minimum age to be set at 6 until Benaquisto apparently cited a technical rules issue. 

Senate President Bill Galvano said he learned about the withdrawal when it happened. He also said he supported setting a minimum age of arrest.

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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