A bill aimed at making Florida schools safer just passed a full chamber vote in the House. The proposal includes penalties for school officials and adds members to a school safety committee, among other changes.
Rep. Ralph Massullo (R-Beverly Hills) is hoping his bill will beef up school safety and security. It comes after a grand jury report found some schools and districts didn't have enough security officers or active shooter drills. Massullo comments that, on the whole, districts are making great progress.
"I don't know that we'll ever be finished, but that's the neat thing about this process... We can take those tools that we've developed, and we can continue to sharpen them and make them work better for the students and the other people that we serve."
His bill reinforces that a district superintendent's salary can be suspended until the district is in compliance with state law. Rep. Joe Geller (D-Dania Beach) worries communities may not have the money to place an officer at every school.
"Money has to come from somewhere, Geller says, "I don't think there's anybody here in the chambers that says 'oh just take it out of instruction. We're going to teach our kids that much less. We're going to overcrowd the classes.' That's not what we're looking for— we're looking to enhance school safety. So give them the funds to enhance school safety."
He spoke in support of an amendment to the bill allowing districts to go over maximum tax levies to raise property taxes for school resource officers. The legislature put aside money to pay for the officers, but some lawmakers say that money wasn't enough. Massullo argues districts can already ask voters if they would like to raise property taxes, and notes districts have alternatives to school resource officers.
"We required them to have a school safety officer and there [are] four types of school safety officers. There's the SROs, there's the guardian, there [are] the private individuals that a school district could hire, or they could have their own police force," Massullo says.
The proposed amendment was not passed. Massullo's bill would require school safety officers to complete mental health crisis intervention training. It would also enable these officers to make arrests on charter school property and add three new members to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.