Florida legislators struggle with how to respond to shooting

February 17, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Stunned by a horrific shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead, the Florida Legislature is grappling with what to do in the aftermath.

Legislators have just three weeks left in their annual 60-day session. Normally, lawmakers are trying to wrap up work on a new state budget in the final days.

But the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland has revived an ongoing legislative debate about how to respond to gun violence.

Democrats want the Legislature to take up gun control bills that have languished again this year, but Republican legislative leaders are talking about boosting mental health programs in Florida’s public schools as well considering measures that would bolster safety on school campuses.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he plans to talk to legislative leaders in the coming week about what could be done to make it harder for people who are mentally ill to purchase a gun.

Senate and House leaders have also said they are willing to help pay to tear down the three-story building where the shootings happened and place a memorial on the site. It could cost up to $30 million to replace the school building with a new building placed in a different location on the campus.

Some GOP legislators wanted to consider a bill to put trained armed volunteers or school employees inside the state’s public schools. The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to take up the legislation (SB 1236), but Sen. Greg Steube, the committee chairman, announced late Friday that the measure would not be taken up after all. Steube made his decision after several top senators said they were opposed to considering the bill. Groups opposed to the bill flooded legislators with phone calls the last two days.

Other bills coming up next week include:

--The House will take up a bill (HB 139) that calls for installing a statue of famed educator Mary McLeod Bethune in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. It would replace the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. The Senate has already passed similar legislation, which also calls for the state to take Smith’s statue and make it available for public display.

--The Florida Senate is prepared to approve a measure (HB 85) that would allow the state to start sharing voter information to make sure people aren’t registered in other states. The bill sponsored by Rep. Ross Spano would allow the Department of State to share voter information with other states, provided that the effort is not controlled by the federal government. It also allows Florida to share driver’s license information with other states.

Currently there is a partnership between 22 states and the District of Columbia to share information.

--Every Florida school and school administrative building will have to prominently display “In God we trust” under a bill (HB 839) that will be considered by the Florida House.

--A Senate committee is scheduled to hear a sweeping schools and voucher bill (HB 7055) that has already passed the Florida House. It would allow students who are victims of bullying, harassment and other types of violence to either transfer to another public school or receive a private-school voucher.

The bill also makes a vast array of changes on everything from school testing to how much money charter schools can receive.

Update hourly