BY MARGIE MENZEL
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – A Florida Senate panel on Monday approved what backers call a “school safety” bill that would allow school superintendents to tap employees or volunteers to carry concealed weapons on school property.
The measure (SB 180) passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on a party-line vote of 3-2 – the first Senate committee to approve the bill this year. Committee Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, is sponsoring the bill.
This is the third year the proposal has surfaced, and the House version, HB 19 by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, has already been approved by two committees.
Under the proposal, only people with law enforcement or military experience, in good standing, could qualify to become armed school security. They would also be required to hold concealed-weapons permits, pass background checks and go through a training program created by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Opposed by teachers
Several educators, however, spoke against the measure.
“We’re just opposed to the idea that having more guns is a good idea for safety,” Barbara Holley, a retired elementary school principal, told the Senate committee. “There’s no evidence that having more guns around children will make children safer.”
Barbara Kirby-Bentley, a teacher with the Seminole County School Board, contended that guns are not safe in a school environment.
“You read every day about children attacking teachers in the classroom,” she said. “You read every day about students attacking law enforcement of some other adult who has authority over them. Just think of the anger they’re showing now – and if you put guns on campus, there’s another opportunity for the loss of life.”
Democrats on the panel objected as well.
Dem: Hire officers
“In my county, Palm Beach County, we pay to have full-time school police officers,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “If we’re going to do this, we should do it the right way and that’s to hire – and the state should pay for – school police officers to be in the school full time.”
Clemens said he thought Steube was trying to do the right thing, “but I’m still not all the way there yet.”
But Steube, who presented the bill to the Senate panel, pointed to part of the bill that would require school boards to consult with law enforcement to come up with policies and procedures for dealing with active shooters, hostage situations “and anything else that (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement) thinks is appropriate.”
“Right now that course doesn’t even exist,” Steube said. “School resource officers don’t even go through any training specific to school safety.”
The bill faces two more Senate committees.