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Florida House sends Stoneman Douglas gun and school bill to governor

Dan Sweeney, Sun Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After more than eight hours of debate on the school safety bill crafted in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School -- coming just one day after eight hours of debate on more than 60 failed amendments to it -- the Florida House passed the bill 67-50 Wednesday night.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who wouldn't say whether he would sign it.

"When a bill makes it to my desk I'll do what they don't seem to be doing in Washington," Scott said. "I'm going to review the bill line by line."

Ryan Petty and Andrew Pollack, who both lost their daughters in the shooting, came up to Tallahassee to witness the vote. Petty had to leave to catch a flight home before the vote occurred.

"We're all in favor of this bill passing. There's so much good in this bill that it needs to pass. And if anyone's voting against it in there, they have a different agenda than what their community has, which is protecting our kids and making them safe," said Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, in the shooting. "Whoever's voting no doesn't have the interests of the kids and the community as their best interest."

Most of those voting no were Democrats who took issue with a provision of the bill that would allow some school personnel to be armed.

"I want all students to be safe in school," said state Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. "I believe this is dangerous because there is an implicit bias against boys and girls of color."

With that bias in mind, Stafford and other African-American Democrats feared that a minority student who reaches for a phone during a mass shooting event could be mistaken for the shooter by school staff with firearms.

Others feared that, under Florida's "stand your ground" law, armed school staff could shoot students even under circumstances that did not involve an active shooter.

"Look to the future because the day that it happens, the next set of blood, the next massacre, that's on your hands," said state Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando. "Are you willing to have that on your hands?"

But for Broward Democrats who represent the area, there was never any question of voting no on the bill.

"I didn't hear crying. I heard screaming," state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said of the night of the shooting, as parents were informed of their children's deaths. "It haunts me."

Pollack stared down from the gallery, stone-faced.

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At funerals, Moskowitz said, "parents all said, 'I thought my child was safe at school.' And that's not a statement -- that's an indictment."

To black Democrats angry over the Legislature ignoring "the slow drip of children getting killed by guns," he said it "should be no different than children getting killed all at once. I get it."

But to those who had trouble voting for the bill, he added: "This isn't hard. Putting your kid in the ground is hard. This is pushing a button."

In case you're confused about the Stoneman Douglas shooting bills

The bill funds mental health, school safety and school security programs at about $300 million, plus another $67 million for a program that would allow some school employees to carry firearms.

Another $26 million would go toward tearing down and replacing the building where the shooting occurred and building a memorial on the site.

It would also allow law enforcement to take the firearms of people who make violent threats against themselves or others, with a legal process for individuals to get their guns back.

The bill also restricts firearm purchases to those age 21 and older and requires a three-day waiting period and background checks, the same limitations that are currently in place for handguns.

The vote follows a lengthy amendment process Tuesday in which Democrats were foiled in attempting to end the guns-in-schools program and place more restrictions on firearms.

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