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Florida gun bill disarms classroom teachers

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | March 6, 2018 at 2:38 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Most classroom teachers would be unable to carry firearms under the bill passed Monday by the Florida Senate in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

But there would still be guns in schools.

With Republican Gov. Rick Scott against arming teachers and the legislative black caucus having united against the idea, the Florida Senate amended its bill Monday to exclude classroom teachers from participating.

The overall bill passed 20-18, with Republicans and Democrats coming down on both sides. Republicans who voted no took issue with the bill's age limit of 21 for all firearms purchases, while many Democrats felt that the new limits on the plan to arm school staff weren't enough.

"Do I think this bill goes far enough? No, no I don't. But what I disagree with more is letting the great be the enemy of the good," said state Sen. Lauren Book. "We have been elected to represent the will of the people and their will is clear -- let's get something done."

But even other Democrats from Broward County, where the shooting took place, disagreed with the incremental change supported by Book.

"The mentality that we take what we get and come back next year, for me? I'm sorry, I can't do that," said state Sen. Gary Farmer. "Next year, the buses won't be here, the pressure will be reduced, and the NRA will be omnipotent again."

The amendment narrowly tailored who qualifies as a classroom teacher to just those defined in state law as "staff members assigned the professional activity of instructing students in courses in classroom situations, including basic instruction, exceptional student education, career education, and adult education."

Librarians, media specialists, advisers and other school personnel would still be able to carry firearms. Additionally, classroom teachers who don't teach exclusively -- such as teachers who also coach sports -- would be allowed to carry. Current service members, current or former law enforcement officials and teachers in a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program would also be allowed to carry.

The amendment sponsor, state Sen. Rene Garcia, was one of just two Republicans who has sided with Democrats in trying to get an assault weapons ban and some other gun control measures put into the bill. The other is state Sen. Anitere Flores.

"Would I like to see it go further? Of course I would like to see it go further, but this is part of the political environment that we live in," Garcia said.

The program would remain optional, with both county sheriffs and school district superintendents having to approve and school staff having the option of participating.

With the bill through the Senate, the House is set to amend its version today, then vote on it Wednesday. Significant differences remain between the two bills, and they must be identical to go to Scott for signing.

Other states are acting after the shooting in Parkland, Fla., too. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown signed into law a bill that bars convicted domestic abusers and people under restraining orders from buying or owning guns and ammunition. The bill closed a loophole in a 2015 law that excluded some abusers from the ban, such as boyfriends who abuse partners they don't live with.

Brown signed the bill that adds more people to an existing ban on the steps of the Oregon state Capitol as several hundred onlookers cheered, including high school students who had come to press for school safety after the Florida shooting and to meet with Brown.

At the national level, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators said they want state law enforcement officials to be alerted when someone who isn't allowed to buy a gun tries to purchase one.

Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Chris Coons, D-Del., on Monday said they will introduce a bill that requires federal authorities to notify states when a felon or a fugitive attempts to buy a firearm but fails the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Information for this article was contributed by Dan Sweeney of the Sun Sentinel; and by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/06/2018

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