Governor, Legislature Offer School Safety Plans

Feb 23, 2018

Gov. Rick Scott, outlining his school safety program.
Credit Governor's Press Office via Twitter

Gov. Rick Scott is out with a gun safety plan, which focuses on keeping firearms out of the hands of violent people, among other provisions.

A grim-faced governor took the podium in Tallahassee Friday morning, beginning his 17-minute address by reading the names of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Unfortunately, none of the plans I’m announcing today will bring any of them back, but it’s important to remember them, said Scott. “The 17 lives that were cut short and all the hopes and dreams that were ruined have changed our state forever. Florida will never be the same.”

One of the goals, says Scott, is to make "virtually impossible" for a dangerous person to get a gun. To that end, he plans to work with the Legislature in the remaining two weeks of the regular session. The Governor’s plan is divided into three sections. First, the state’s gun laws, including creation of the “Violent Threat Restraining Order.”

This will allow a court to prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm or any other weapon when either a family member, community welfare expert or law enforcement officer files a sworn request, and presents evidence to the court of a threat of violence involving firearms or other weapons,” said the Governor.

There would be speedy due process, says Scott, and any false statements could face prosecution. In addition, anyone involuntarily committed for mental health treatment would be required to surrender their firearms for a minimum of 60 days.

“We will require all individuals purchasing firearms to be 21 or older,” Scott said. “There will be exceptions for active duty and reserve military and spouses, National Guard members, and law enforcement.”

Gun purchases would be banned for those under protective orders for stalking, cyberstalking and domestic violence. Also, there would be a minimum 60-day period before individuals could ask a court to restore access to firearms. Another proposal would enhance criminal penalties for threats to schools, and provide 450 million dollars to keep students safe – including mandatory law enforcement officers in every public school.

“These law enforcement officers must either be sworn sheriff’s deputies or police officers or be present during all hours students are on campus,” said the Governor. “I am proposing at least one law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students.”

Scott wants this provision in place for the 2018-19 school year. Meanwhile, state legislative leaders – all Republicans -- are weighing in with their take on curbing school violence.

“Our job is to lead; government has failed on multiple levels,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “Our hope is that we will put together – jointly with the Senate – a proposal that insures that we don’t fail our school students again.”

Incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano.

The Legislature’s plan pretty much echoes that of Gov. Scott’s, with provisions for beefing up gun safety and mental health issues. Provisions floated by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano deals with students considered a danger to themselves and others.

“Requiring each school district to designate a school safety specialist,” Galvano said. “And each school to establish a threat assessment team to provide a coordinated approach to evaluating and responding to students who pose a threat.”

Also on the wish list, information sharing and coordinating, along with other system improvements.

“For personnel in schools; law enforcement and service agencies, to communicate and work together when serving the same at-risk youth,” said Galvano. “So there will not be a hiatus in services being provided and said coordination.”

The lawmakers’ plan also would set up a statewide commission, charged with investigating failures leading to the Parkland shooting, and prior such incidents, and recommending system improvements.

“To determine the extent to which failures in communication, coordination, and other failures contributed to an inability to prevent the deaths and injuries,” said Galvano. “Recommend changes to procedures or policies necessary to enhance communications among schools, law enforcement, and social service agencies as well.”

The GOP leaders say they will not seek to ban assault rifles, such as the AR-15 used in the Parkland attack. Democratic State Representative Carlos Guillermo-Smith is disappointed, but not surprised.

“We need to be banning assault weapons; we need universal background checks,” said Guillermo-Smith. “We need to make sure that we are addressing the root cause of the public health crisis that is gun violence in this state and in this country. It is the guns. The guns are the problem.”

One question to be answered is whether there’s enough time for the proposals to go through the legislative hopper. The regular session ends on March 9 and at this point, there’s been zero talk about a possible special session.