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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Allowing Armed Volunteers, Teachers Advanced Last Week


TALLAHASSEE – On Friday, House Education Committee chairwoman Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Eustis, opened the public hearing on the pending proposal hoping a moment of clarity would end the parade of challenges and criticisms before it began.

"This bill does not require a teacher to be armed," she said.

It didn't matter. Opponent after opponent came to the podium to object to arming classroom teachers.

In concluding the two-hour public hearing Thursday, Sullivan observed, "We've spent very little of the past 1 hour and 56 minutes talking about what actually is in this bill."

Maybe that will happen when House Bill 7093 goes before the House Appropriations Committee after it was christened as PCB EDC 19-02 by the House Education Committee Thursday in an 11-5 partisan vote.

But don't count on it.

Like its Senate companion bill, Senate Bill 7030, HB 7093 is the so-called "Make Teachers Carry Guns" bill, drawing heated opposition despite the fact that it doesn't make teachers carry guns.

SB 7030, sponsored by Senate Education Committee, was initially scheduled to go before the Senate's Infrastructure & Security Committee on March 20 but the hearing was changed to accommodate the volume of speakers expected to testify against the bill because it "makes teachers carry guns" even though it doesn't make teachers carry guns.

The 36-page HB 7093 would expand the state's Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, created after last year's Valentine's Day Parkland school shooting, by allowing classroom teachers with concealed carry permits to volunteer for the program.

Classroom teachers were excluded from those eligible to serve as armed guardians as a concession in adopting last year's Senate Bill 7026, the hastily assembled $400 million Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act.

SB 7026 earmarked $67 million for the guardian program but, according to a 458-page report submitted to the Legislature in January by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Commission - created to ascertain how to best implement the bill - only 25 school districts had opted to go with guardian program, using only $9.7 million to train 688 guardians.

Many districts said they would adopt the program if local law enforcement agencies provided the training, but SB 7026 states sheriffs "may" provide the training rather than "shall" do so, leaving it to law enforcement, rather than school boards, to implement the program. Numerous sheriffs have declined to participate citing liability concerns.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Commission suggested the law be changed to "shall" provide the 144 hours of training, rigorous background check and physiological analysis required to volunteer for the program - and allow teachers with concealed weapons permits to apply for the program.

The commission's recommendations are incorporated into HB 7093 and SB 7030.

HB 7093 includes "far more good things" that improve last year's school safety act that is drawing attention for just one provision some don't like, said Rep. Chris Latvala, R- Clearwater, during Thursday's hearing before the House Education Committee.

The League of Women Voters' Nicolette Springer, speaking for the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said teachers should not carry firearms in classrooms nor should teachers be forced to subsist in a work environment made unsafe by armed co-workers.

"We're asking too much from our educators," Springer said. "This is the job of law enforcement."

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Pam Bay, said law enforcement failed to help the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

Springer agreed, but said what happened at Stoneman Douglas High is an exception to the norm in law enforcement's response to a shooter, saying it was "invalid to extrapolate individual reactions to the entirety of law enforcement in Florida."

She asked if Fine would want all legislators characterized by the actions of a single lawmaker.

"That's fair," Fine answered. "People don't die if I do my job."

"But they might - if you put guns in teachers' hands," Springer replied.

Rep. Delores Hogan Johnson, D-Fort Pierce, said there are "extremely good" aspects in HB 7093, but joined five Democrats in opposing it because it allows teachers to carry guns.

This piece appeared in the Watchdog.org and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Layout and graphic added by the Observer

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