The Florida House Wednesday passed a $400 million school safety package in a 67-50 vote after another lengthy debate, formally delivering to Gov. Rick Scott a bill he is expected to sign despite reservations about its controversial “guardian” program, which would allow some volunteer officials to carry firearms on school property.
The House’s adoption of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act came two days after the Senate approved the 105-page bill in a 20-18 vote and three weeks to the day after 17 students and staff were murdered at the high school in Parkland.
The vote closed a tumultuous and often frayed debate that raged through committee hearings and discussions in both chambers on the same day the Senate also passed its version of a renewed gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and a joint conference committee announced it had reached accord on the state’s 2018-19 budget.
“We have an agreement on the budget,” House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, announced at 1:15 p.m., while the House was deliberating the school safety bill.
Corcoran said consensus on the $87.2 billion spending plan means the Legislature can formally approve the budget as early as Saturday afternoon. Florida’s Constitution requires a 72-hour “cooling off” period before a final budget vote, so the session will be extended at least one day beyond its scheduled adjournment Friday.
Despite coalescing momentum in passing the school safety bill and proposed budget within the next few days, finding accord between the House and Senate versions will require extensive negotiation in conference committee beginning Thursday.
The Senate Wednesday passed its gambling package, Senate Bill 840, in a 22-10 vote, sending it back to House with a request to go to into conference as to forge a compromise bill.
SB 840 is essentially the same as House Bill 7067, the gaming compact the House adopted Monday, with some modifications and several nettlesome variations. Both would extend a gambling exclusivity agreement with the Seminoles in exchange for $3 billion in revenue share over seven years.
But significant differences exist between the chambers’ versions of the bill: the 83-page HB 7067 makes “designated player” games illegal while the 90-page SB 840 does not.; SB 840 bill makes fantasy gaming legal. HB 7067 does not; SB 840 “partially decouples” horse and greyhound tracks from a requirement they can only offer slots during live racing events. HB 7067 does not; SB 840 would allow designated-player games. HB 7067 does not.
The House bill specifies how the $3 billion in Seminole gambling money is spent – one third each to K-12 teacher recruitment, retention bonuses; to “higher education institutions to recruit, retain faculty; to “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools,” or the “Schools of Hope” program – while the Senate bill does not.
Among late entries incorporated into the Senate bill Wednesday is a proposal by pari-mutuel owners to increase the money they pay to the state if the eight counties that approved 2014 local referendums are allowed to have slot machines. The pari-mutuel owners estimate that would generate between $200 million and $300 million a year, which would bump the revenue share from the Seminoles for their exclusive rights to blackjack and to slots outside South Florida.
The House deliberated on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act for eight hours Wednesday after wading through — and shooting down — nearly 40 amendments during a marathon discussion Tuesday.
Calls for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks for all firearm transactions, more strident standards for concealed weapons permits, enhanced security requirements for firearm retailers, magazine capacity restrictions, local government authority to regulate firearms and to make the $45.2 million concealed weapons fee trust fund “sweepable” like all other trusts were repeated as they had been through preceding committee and floor votes.
The bill would implement a “guardian plan” to permit district school boards to designate vetted, volunteer administrators, staff and others whose primary duties are outside a classroom to undergo 144 hours of training and be armed on school property; boost funding for school resource officers; increase investment for student mental services; increase minimum age to purchase any firearm from 18 to 21; require a three-day waiting period on all firearm purchases; and ban bump stocks.
A break-down of the bill’s expenditures:
- $98.9 million to “harden” schools.
- $97.5 million for new school resource officers statewide.
- $69 million more for students’ mental health services.
- $67.5 million for the “guardian” program.
- $25.3 million to replace Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the 17 were killed.
- $18.3 million for mental-health "mobile crisis teams.”
- $9.8 million for "community action" mental-health teams.
- $6.7 million for mental health awareness.
- $3 million for a "centralized data repository" for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
- $1 million to conduct security risk assessments of public schools.
- $1 million for a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School memorial.
- $650,000 for a fact-finding commission.
- $400,000 to develop a "mobile suspicious activity reporting tool" app.
- $243,000 for staff death benefits.
- $100,000 for active shooter training for school safety specialists.