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New Bill Aims To Bring 'Balance' And 'Cultural Diversity' To Parkland Shooting Commission

David Santiago
Miami Herald
State Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat from Plantation, and Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter Alaina in the Parkland shooting, are members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Here, they are attending a meeting in June 2018.

The Florida investigative commission that has driven changes to school safety laws since the Parkland shooting could feature more educators and be more diverse after this year’s legislative session.

The state Senate education committee is considering a bill Tuesday that would add three seats to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. The new positions would have to be filled by current school district superintendents, principals and teachers.

Further, when the governor or legislative leaders make appointments to the commission in the future, they would need to try to achieve an "equal balance" of school district, law enforcement and health care officials. Also, they would need to consider how to make the panel reflect Florida's “cultural diversity."

The proposed changes come as civil rights groups have criticized the commission as being too police-heavy and too white. All 15 appointed members on the panel now are white. Three are sheriffs, and four others are also current or former law enforcement officers and prosecutors.

There are also four ex officio members: the leaders of the state departments of education, children and families, juvenile justice and the agency for health care administration.

The commission’s task has been to examine what went wrong before, during and after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting that left 17 dead and another 17 injured at Stoneman Douglas, and recommend legislative changes designed to prevent a future massacre.

The group’s suggestions have led to an overhaul of the state’s school safety laws, including requiring an armed guard on every campus and allowing some school staff to carry guns. The new bill includes strengthened training requirements for armed guards.

The commission has also received criticism for avoiding a deep look at Florida’s mental health care system. In the new bill, that job would be delegated to the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The legislation is a proposal from the Senate education committee itself, rather than an individual lawmaker. Once adopted by the committee — which is chaired by Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr., a Republican from Hialeah — it will be introduced as a bill and assigned to other committees before a floor vote.

Separately, two Democratic lawmakers are pushing legislation that would reallocate funding now earmarked for the armed guard program. Rep. Tina Polsky of Boca Raton is one of the sponsors.

Many school districts have opted against arming staff, choosing instead to expand their police forces or form partnerships with local municipal police departments in order to meet the state mandate. Some lawmakers and school district leaders have argued any unused funding should be able to be used for other school safety expenses.