Monday 21 May 2018

Lawmakers vote to arm some teachers in Florida - but governor yet to have final say

Florida Governor Rick Scott listens during a meeting with law enforcement, mental health, and education officials about how to prevent future tragedies in the wake of last week's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Colin Hackley/File Photo
Florida Governor Rick Scott listens during a meeting with law enforcement, mental health, and education officials about how to prevent future tragedies in the wake of last week's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Colin Hackley/File Photo

Curt Anderson, Brendan Farrington and Josh Replogle

Florida lawmakers have passed laws that include new restrictions on rifle sales and a programme to arm some teachers, sending the measure to the state's governor for his signature.

All eyes now turn to Rick Scott, who has declined to say if he will sign the school safety bill with new restrictions on rifle sales and a programme to arm some teachers.

The state House narrowly passed it on Wednesday after a narrow Senate vote on Monday.

The 67-50 House vote reflected a mix of Republicans and Democrats in support and opposition. The measure, a response to the shootings at a Parkland high school that left 17 dead, is supported by the victims' families.

Scott has repeatedly said he does not support arming teachers and had pushed lawmakers adopt his own proposal, which called for at least one law enforcement officer in every school and one for every thousand students who attend a school.

Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter Meadow in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and Ryan Petty, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Alaina, said there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.

"More needs to be done, and it's important for the country to be united in the same way the 17 families united in support of this bill," Mr Pollack said after the vote.

"My precious daughter Meadow's life was taken, and there's nothing I can do to change that, but make no mistake, I'm a father and I'm on a mission.

"I'm on a mission to make sure I'm the last dad to ever read a statement of this kind."

Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz, a former Parkland city commissioner, ended the eight hours of debate with an emotional account of seeing the high school after the shooting, attending victims' funerals and working with students and families while the House was forming the legislation.

He broke down in tears after talking about how his four-year-old son's writing teacher lost her daughter in the attack.

"You don't need to stand with me. I don't need you to stand with me. I need you to stand with the families," Mr Moskowitz said.

Democratic Representative Kristin Jacobs said she did not like the idea of arming teachers, but she voted yes.

Republican Republican Jay Fant said raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 was unconstitutional, and he voted no.

"There is a cultural divide in this room, in this state and across the country. And there's a bill before us that is not perfect," said Mr Jacobs, whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The bill would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and create a waiting period on sales of the weapons.

It would also create a so-called guardian program that would let school employees and many teachers carry handguns if they go through law enforcement training and if the school district decides to participate in the program.

Other provisions would create new mental health programs for schools; establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats to schools, ban bump stocks and improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.

Mr Scott has repeatedly said he does not support arming teachers and pushed lawmakers adopt his proposal, which called for at least one law enforcement officer in every school and one for every thousand students who attend a school.

"I'm going to take the time and I'm going to read the bill and I'm going to talk to families," Mr Scott told reporters.

Shooting suspect Cruz was formally charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder Wednesday, which could mean a death sentence if he is convicted.

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News