Dueling passions, last-minute coronavirus negotiations kill school safety bill
Photo: Colin Hackley.

Although there wasn't much daylight between the House and Senate's bills, they couldn't close the gap.

When the dust settled in the mad dash to midnight of the final day of the 2020 Legislative Session, a school safety bill made a priority of both the Senate President and House Speaker, was left stranded, dead on the 61st morning.

“I’m wondering a little bit about what happened,” Speaker José Oliva said. “President [Bill] Galvano and I ran the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Bill.”

This year marks the first in three Sessions since the massacre at Parkland that lawmakers did not pass an overarching school safety deal. The measure (HB 7065) was supposed to implement recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas commission, but that legislation will have to wait till next year, after both of Oliva and Galvano’s tenures.

Key unresolved differences between both houses’ proposals remained unsettled as the bill bounced back and forth starting with just over an hour to go till Sine Die. Oliva feared the Senate measure created unintended consequences, and in particular, he wanted to keep the Guardian program tight to the original language.

“Maybe the fact that it was so important to each of us, things got caught up in the details,” he said.

And as the Speaker met with reporters, Galvano fielded similar inquiries across the rotunda. The Senate’s proposal, he felt, was well put together.

“When I took the gavel, I said, ‘Senators, we need to be willing to walk away if we don’t feel like it’s at the right point.’ Obviously, the House had a different approach to it which we didn’t concur with, and we’ll go from there,” Galvano said.

But the several hours of down time that spanned Friday afternoon was largely dedicated to hashing out the tax package. Fears of an economy chilled by the novel coronavirus compounded this week, throwing the critical budgetary aspect for a loop as lawmakers looked for loose ends from which to cobble together a $300 million disease reserve.

Oliva agreed that those talks spurred by the coronavirus’s indeterminate impact on the economy in part killed the safety bill and other policy proposals:

“Anytime that the focus is off of something, it’s ability to get through an already difficult process is reduced.”

Although the headlining public safety package didn’t survive, the Legislature did pass Alyssa’s Law on Tuesday for panic buttons in schools. And it will include a plan to develop a standard for the alarm system in the upcoming budget.

Oliva pointed toward his and his counterpart’s work throughout the last few years as progress made. And Galvano hoped to assure Floridians longing for the safety bill that even as they left the Legislature, work would continue in coming sessions.

“There’s still the infrastructure that we created at [the Department of Education] and throughout the districts and the enforcement that’s going on, so I would tell them sit tight and we’re going to stay on it,” Galvano said.

School districts are already independently implementing much of the recommendations now more than two years out from from the MSD shooting, he added.

The bills hit several school safety aspects such as increasing emergency preparedness, reforming the Guardian training process and increasing the ability to prosecute false emergency tips. For instance, school boards would be required set up emergency family reunification plans by Aug. 1, 2021.

Additionally, the bills would have directed any sheriff’s office conducting Guardian training to review and approve applicants’ psychological and drug tests before training to ensure they are eligible to perform as Guardians.

A school safety grand jury impaneled last year found that program was wasting valuable resources by training individuals who were later found to be ineligible.

Knowingly submitting false tips through FortifyFL would have triggered an investigation under both versions of the bill, where “the IP address of the device on which the tip was submitted will be provided to law enforcement agencies.”

On the Senate side, Sen. Randolph Bracy had revived the “Kaia Rolle Act,” setting the minimum age for arrest at 7 years of age except for forcible felonies. A House version of the provision, shepherded by Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee, would have required police departments and schools to have policies in place surrounding the arrest of children younger than 10 years old.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at r[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

One comment

  • Get A Life

    March 15, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Yeah, boo hoo. The sooner this worthless anti-comstitution trash is out of office the better. The world doesn’t revolve around schools and kids, or bleeding heart liberals who use them for politcal advantage.

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