The Florida Senate will hold an extraordinary Saturday session to try to forge a compromise on a school safety plan.
Both the House and the Senate delayed taking up the proposal Friday as they work toward a legislative session March 9 deadline to pass new safety laws in the wake of a high school massacre that claimed the lives of 14 teenagers and three staffers.
“They are scared,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, about House and Senate leaders’ maneuvering ahead of the end of the 2018 session, this coming Friday. “They are scared what voters will do if they leave here without doing anything.”
Smith wants an assault weapons ban but he will spend the weekend talking to his east Orlando constituents to see how far they will let him push for stronger gun control measures
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Meanwhile, the Senate will tackle more than 52 amendments to a proposal released eight days ago by Republican leaders. The opposition is being urged on by a growing, and at times unlikely coalition of educators, parents, Second Amendment advocates, progressives, the NRA, and minorities.
The plan, as it is now written, would impose a three-day waiting period and raise the minimum age for firearms purchases, spend money to increase school security and create a school marshal plan to allow teachers to carry guns into the classroom.
On Friday, Smith was backed by faith leaders and a Tallahassee high school principal who blasted the pistol-packing teacher proposal as insane.
“Teachers are to teach. Teachers are to inspire. Teachers are not to shoot,” said the Rev. R.B. Holmes, Jr., a 30-year Tallahassee minister and former Florida A&M University trustee.
A school marshal proposal is championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. It would mandate sheriffs to develop a training program to certify teachers to carry a gun in the classroom. Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Polk, said the proposal has been misrepresented and is misunderstood.
“There’s an assumption it is going to be little Miss Smith with a gun. It’s not. It is trained law enforcement with a gun to stop a person with bad intentions in that school,” said Stargel.
But Billy Epting, principal of Leon High School in Tallahassee, said he can think of two catastrophic outcomes when teachers carry guns. A student is shot by a well-meaning teacher. A teacher is shot by law enforcement mistaking a “friend for a foe.”
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, is equally adamant when it comes to arming teachers.
Montford is behind a half dozen amendments that will be considered Saturday. One strips the school marshal program of any funding.
“Arming teachers is the wrong thing to do and a lot of my colleagues in both the House and Senate have several questions about it,” he said.
Those questions and time factored into Senate President Joe Negron’s decision to call senators to work this weekend. The House and Senate stop accepting new proposals from the other chamber as the session end approaches.
That deadline is Wednesday. And Negron doesn’t want the clock to run out on what has become the most pressing issue of the session.
“Holding a sitting on Saturday is the best option for . . . affording this legislation the serious time and consideration it deserves,” said Negron.
The legislation needs a balancing act, said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. She said the option Negron chose affords lawmakers the time to serve the interests of a diverse state. Florida is a unique combination of rural and urban – most of the population of the third most urban state live along the coast, per the U.S. Census.
Vast stretches of the interior and North Florida are mostly rural and closer to Appalachia than a Latin dominated Miami or an international destination like Orlando.
“We all represent very different areas,” said Flores of the 38 senators. “What gun rights means might mean different things in different parts of the state. If it takes an extra day to get the balance right, (then) it takes an extra day.”
That extra day is Saturday. But satisfying all the different factions in this debate is going to be a heavy lift.