Governor, lawmakers unveil plans to improve school safety, mental health, gun laws
Florida lawmakers, Gov. Scott differ in opinions to arm school personnel
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott unveiled a wide-sweeping legislative plan Friday to keep Florida students safe, following a mass shooting at a Broward County high school, which includes new age restrictions and making it "virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun."
The plan includes school safety improvements, keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness, banning firearm accessories known as "bump stocks" and new firearm age restrictions.
"The goal of this plan of action is to make massive changes in protecting our schools, provide significantly more resources for mental health and do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of those dealing with mental problems or threatening harm to themselves or others," Scott said.
Many have called for teachers to be armed in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and faculty members were killed on Valentine's Day.
Scott said he disagreed with plans that include arming teachers, such as the Polk County Sheriff's Office's Sentinel Plan.
"My focus is on providing more law enforcement officers, not arming the teachers," Scott said in response to a question about Sheriff Grady Judd's initiative in Polk County.
The plan includes three main parts, which Scott says he will work with Florida legislators during the next two weeks to pass:
Gun age and mental health restrictions:
Scott said under a violent threat restraining order, a family member or law enforcement officer will be able to petition the court to remove weapons from someone they say is a threat to the community. The process would be "speedy," Scott said, and anyone who abuses the process would face criminal charges.
People who are held under the Baker Act will also face new firearm possession restrictions. If a person is involuntarily committed, the person will be forced to turn over all firearms and will not be given them back or be able to purchase new guns until after a court hearing, with a minimum 60-day waiting period.
Scott said that these changes could have prevented the Broward County 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz from killing his former classmates and teachers.
"He had 39 visits from police, his mother called him in, DCF investigated, he was kicked out of school, he was known to students as a danger to shoot people, and he was reported to the FBI last month as a possible school shooter," Scott said. "And yet he was never put on the list to be denied the ability to buy a gun and his guns were never removed from him."
Under the legislation, Florida residents would need to be 21 years or older before purchasing a firearm on their own. Currently, 18-year-olds can purchase guns, which is what the accused Parkland high school shooter did shortly after his 18th birthday.
Student safety actions:
The second part of Scott's plan will add $450 million to Safe Schools Allocation state funding to place 1 law enforcement officer for every 1,000 students at all Florida public schools. This was a big request this week from law enforcement leaders when they met in Tallahassee following the Feb. 14 shooting.
Schools will be required to conduct active shooter drills that meet Department of Homeland Security standards.
Scott said the funding also includes dollars for increased security measures, including bulletproof doors, metal detectors and upgraded locks.
"Each school will be required to have a threat assessment team including a teacher, a local law enforcement officer, a human resource officer, a DCF employee, a DJJ employee, and the principal to meet monthly to review any potential threats to students and staff at the school," Scott said.
The Florida departments of Education and Law Enforcement will make sure all schools are up to the new standards by July 1.
Mental health screening:
Scott said he will allocate $50 million for mental health initiatives for students.
"We must expand mental health service teams statewide to serve youth and young adults with early or serious mental illness by providing counseling, crisis management and other critical mental health services," Scott said.
Every sheriff's office will have a Department of Children and Families case manager embedded to work as a crisis welfare worker for repeat cases in the community. The DCF will have to hire 67 employees by July 15 to meet this requirement.
Response from federal, state lawmakers
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., responded to the Florida governor's plan, calling it the "bare minimum" because it did not call for a ban on assault weapons or enforce criminal background checks for gun buyers.
“Students, parents and teachers across our state are demanding action - but instead of listening to them, it’s clear the governor is once again choosing to listen only to the NRA. The governor’s plan doesn’t do one thing to ensure comprehensive criminal background checks or ban assault rifles, like the AR-15," Nelson said in a statement. "His leadership is weak and by recommending raising the age to 21 he is doing the bare minimum. Enough is enough. We need to get these assault rifles off our streets and expand criminal background checks for anyone acquiring a gun.”
Nelson will be in Orlando Friday and plans to address the media at 1:30 p.m.
Following Scott's announcement, Florida legislators responded with their own plan, which Sen. Bill Galvano said "will make a difference in the years to come."
In many ways, it is similar to the plan unveiled by Scott, but there are a few differences, specifically regarding the topic of armed personnel within schools.
In what Galvano referred to as the Marshal plan lawmakers said they hope to staff schools with more armed administrators trained by authorities.
Galvano said the administrators would be selected and screened by law enforcement officers and would undergo a minimum of 132 hours of training before being armed within the schools. They would be under the responsibility of the school's local sheriff’s office, according to Galvano.
Senate President Joe Negron said it would be voluntarily, meaning it would be up to the individual schools to decide whether they want to participate in the plan, but that he hopes all state schools will choose to implement the plan.
Other school safety measures proposed by lawmakers included the implementation of school safety specialists for each district and a team within each individual school that would establish and evaluate safety and security plans, as well as update risk management procedures.
Schools will also be required to conduct emergency drills for active shooter and hostage situations. The drills would involve students, school personnel and law enforcement experts.
In regards to firearm safety, lawmakers said they hope to increase the minimum age to purchase and own a firearm of any kind from 18 years of age to 21, except for law enforcement officers and active military personnel.
The proposal would also introduce more restrictions for people who are hospitalized under the Baker Act by allowing law enforcement to remove firearms from someone who is undergoing mental examination for 60 days --or longer, if officers petition to the courts to keep them.
If patients are deemed mentally defective or committed to a mental institution, lawmakers’ plan would prohibit them from owning or buying a firearm or obtaining a concealed weapon license. Current law only prohibits those patients from buying them.
Law enforcement officers would now have the authority to temporarily remove weapons from someone who is undergoing a mental crisis if proven that the person poses a threat of violence, according to the proposal.
Lawmakers also proposed the idea of banning bump-stock accessories.
In an effort to improve the response to mental health needs, lawmakers proposed ways to expand the coordination of school personnel, law enforcement officers and communication agencies to offer help to schools in order to treat at-risk youth or those dealing with emotional and behavioral dissorders.
School districts must designate a school safety specialist for each school as part of the plan. It would then be up to each school to form a threat assessment team to come up with a coordinated approach to evaluate and respond to students who pose a threat of violence, according to lawmakers.
Obstacles that currently stand in the way of school district and law enforcement officials from referring students to mental health services or the authorities would also be removed under the proposed plan.
Lawmakers could not offer a concrete number as of Friday morning but said the plan would cost at least $400 million.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran said officials would “not hold back” in making sure each of the components mentioned in the proposal would be adequately funded.
Overall, Corcoran said he believes the failures that took place leading up and in response to the school shooting in Parkland had much to do with the fact that law enforcement did not have the proper authority to keep weapons out of the hands of the suspect, even though they received several tips about the threat he posed.
Corcoran said he repeatedly heard the phrase “never again” from the victims of the shooting in the days following the tragedy and used the words as inspiration for the plan he believes will be successful.
“We sat down and we said, ‘How do we craft a policy — no limits on policy, no limits on money — how do we craft a policy that says this will never happen again?’” Corcoran said.
Corcoran called the plan a “game changer” in which lawmakers “bring consistency to firearms law, invest heavily in early detection and mental heath, bring common sense protections to our schools and learn lessons from past mistakes to fix going forward.”
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