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Senate Passes Bill Crafted In Response To Parkland, With Scaled-Down Program For Arming School Staff

News Service of Florida

The Florida Senate on Monday night passed a comprehensive gun control and school safety bill crafted in response to the Parkland shooting by the narrowist margin.

Before passing the bill 20-18, the Republican-led Senate scaled down the plan for allowing teachers to be armed. Under the new version, people who are “exclusively” classroom teachers would not be allowed to carry concealed firearms unless they’re in the military or law enforcement. Other staff would still qualify.

The new version of the bill also renames the program after a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School staff member who died in the shooting. Originally, it was called the “school marshal program.” Under the most recent Senate version, it would be the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.”

The bill drew bipartisan opposition, and if one more senator had voted “no,” it would have failed on a tie.

Seven Republicans opposed it, including some of the Legislature’s staunchest gun-rights supporters. On the other end of the political spectrum, the Senate’s seven-member black caucus — all Democrats — opposed it in a bloc.

Sen. Perry Thurston, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, said he wished the Legislature would have given the student survivors what they said they wanted: an assault weapons ban and a plan to keep guns out of schools.

“They can’t think of a possible reason why the Legislature won’t do something about assault weapons,” he said.” They don’t want their teachers having guns. They said that explicitly.

“We’re going to stand with them,” he said.

Another Fort Lauderdale Democrat, Sen. Gary Farmer, said he wanted the bill to get voted down so the Legislature would return in a special session to redo it.

Broward County Democratic Sens. Kevin Rader and Lauren Book were among only three Democrats who voted for it. The other was Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee.

Although they also disagreed with parts of the bill, they appreciated the Legislature’s multi-faceted response to the shooting, including more restrictions on gun purchases and additional funding for hardening schools and boosting mental health services.

The bill now goes to the more conservative House, which could begin consideration as early as Tuesday.

Jessica Bakeman is senior editor for news at WLRN, South Florida's NPR member station. Previously, Bakeman served as WLRN's education reporter for four years. Bakeman was awarded the 2020 Journalist of the Year award from the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.