Florida House debates amendments to school safety bill

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A proposal to arm some teachers and school employees proved particularly contentious Tuesday as Florida representatives debated amendments to a school safety bill.

House members spent nearly three hours asking questions about the legislation, which would put some restrictions on rifle sales, provide new mental health programs from schools and improve communication between school districts, law enforcement and state agencies.

The Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County left 17 dead. Students' anger at the availability of guns, access to weapons by the mentally ill and school safety spurred lawmakers to act.

The House began considering dozens of amendments in the early afternoon, the first of which would have stripped language from that bill that would create a program to arm some teachers and school employees who have undergone law enforcement training. Several Democrats said they wouldn't vote for the bill if it included the so-called guardian program, which would put more guns in schools.

The amendment to strip out guardian language failed on 42-71 vote.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said polls show there's little support for arming teachers, yet overwhelming support for an assault rifle ban.

"So what do we have before us today? A proposal that arms teachers and does not ban military-style assault weapons," Smith said. "This is why people are so fed up with politics."

Several black lawmakers expressed concern that African-American students would be more likely to be accidentally shot by a school employee.

"This is a dangerous bill for people of color, particularly, I believe, young black and brown boys, young black and brown girls, black and brown teachers, males and females. I think there will be some unintended consequences that are deadly and dangerous," Democratic Rep. Cynthia Stafford said.

Republican Rep. Elizabeth Porter lashed back at that idea.

"I've heard that all of a sudden the folks that have been proponents of teachers all these years are saying that teachers are now incompetent ... they're racist, they're bigoted, they're going to target black boys and brown boys. I don't think that's our teachers at all," Porter said.

Porter also criticized her colleagues who've said that lawmakers should listen to the Stoneman Douglas students who took buses to Tallahassee and lobbied for gun safety legislation.

"We've been told that we need to listen to the children and do what the children ask. Are there any children on this floor? Are there any children making laws? Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says no homework?" Porter said. "No. The adults make the laws."

Families of the 17 people who were killed called on the state's Legislature to pass a bill they believe will improve school security. The Senate narrowly passed its bill Monday; the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday.

Meanwhile, prosecutors and lawyers for the victims are going to court to handle the aftermath of the Valentine's Day massacre.

Grand jurors met Tuesday and heard evidence against Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old former student who authorities say killed 17 people and injured more than a dozen others when he fired an AR-15 assault-style rifle inside the school.

And grievously injured student Anthony Borges, 15, and his family filed a letter of intent to sue the Broward County Sheriff's Office, the school resource officer, the school system and Marjory Stoneman Douglas' principal to help recover the costs of his recuperation. Attorney Alex Arreaza said in the Monday letter that Borges still can't walk and has "a great deal of difficulty performing rudimentary tasks for himself."

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