By KELLI KENNEDY
PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s governor said Tuesday that he’s determined to make the Parkland school shooting the last the state ever experiences. Gov. Rick Scott met with Miami-Dade County officials to outline a plan to pass a school safety bill before the state’s annual legislative session ends next Friday.
Scott says he wants to spend $500 million to increase law enforcement and mental health counselors at schools, to make buildings more secure with metal detectors and to create an anonymous tip line. Family members of slain students spoke during the news conference and during a legislative hearing Tuesday in Tallahassee. The father of a girl who was shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 urged people not to allow the contentious gun debate to stall other efforts.
“Let’s not get mired down in that debate,” said Ryan Petty, father of Alaina Petty. “There will be time for that. Right now, we secure our schools. Next, we figure out what went wrong.”
Also Tuesday, a House committee approved the bill that would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21 and create a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases. The bill would also create a program that allows teachers who receive law enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff’s office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom if also approved by the school district.
Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida, told the House Appropriations Committee that she supports hardening schools and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but couldn’t support the bill because of the new restrictions on gun ownership.
After the meeting, she said the restrictions wouldn’t have stopped the Parkland shootings.
“There are laws in place that if they had been followed, that shooter could have been stopped so many times it makes your head spin. So passing more laws dealing with guns as a solution to a problem that exists within the enforcement of laws is just kind of silly,” Hammer said.
The 23-6 committee vote Tuesday came after more than four hours of emotional discussion, including input from parents of some of the 17 killed at Stoneman Douglas. Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of 35-year-old geography teacher Scott Beigel, who died in the shooting,
spoke about the need to raise the minimum age to buy a rifle to 21, as well as banning assault-style rifles and putting limits on the size of ammunition magazines. She spoke against the idea of arming teachers.
“If you can’t legally buy a beer in Florida, why should you be able to legally obtain a weapon of war that can kill people? If you are not mature to consume alcohol, why would you then be mature enough to handle a firearm?” Schulman said. Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a former Parkland vice mayor, said he didn’t like the bill but still voted for it. He explained: “It doesn’t go far enough, and now it goes too far in other areas. But the NRA opposes it, and I will not vote with the NRA.”
Unlike Monday, when hundreds of sometimes rowdy protesters jammed a Senate meeting to consider a similar bill, Tuesday’s proceedings were more orderly. Several people spoke in favor of the assault weapons ban, including Parkland resident Amber Hersh.
“Our children lost a friend. Our friend lost a daughter. This is your opportunity. The world is watching,” she told the committee.
An amendment to ban assault weapons was rejected on an 18-11 vote. A Senate committee was going to take up a similar bill later in the day. As the bill moves through the Legislature, a judge has refused to step aside in the court case of Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people at the high school. Court records show Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the request by Cruz’s lawyers Monday. They claimed Scherer has made rulings and comments that indicate favoritism for prosecutors.
A Tuesday morning hearing in the criminal case against Cruz was canceled after lawyers reached an agreement for prosecutors to get hair samples, fingerprints, DNA and photographs of him. He is charged with 17 counts of murder.
Meanwhile, students are scheduled to return to school Wednesday, for the first time since the Feb. 14 shooting. “I just hope we have started a change and that something is going to come out of this,” said Charlotte Dixon, a sophomore who escaped unharmed during the shooting. “I will have so much more faith in safety at school knowing that if we can make a change and that we have done something and we have taken this horrible thing and make sure it won’t happen again.”