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Senate committee forwards measure to allow school employees to carry guns in schools

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A measure that would allow school employees and volunteers to carry guns on school campuses was approved by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice on Monday.

The measure is being sponsored in the House by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube and in the Senate by Greg Evers from Baker, the same duo who have been pushing the more infamous guns on college campus bill.

This legislation would allow school superintendents to designate people to carry weapons on campus. Those people could be current or former law enforcement officers or current or former members of the military. They would have to pass background checks, take school-safety courses and have concealed-weapons licenses.

A handful of people spoke out against the bill.

“You read every day of students attacking law enforcement or some other adult who has authority over them, ” said Dr. Barbara Kirby-Bentley with the Seminole County School Board. “Just think of the anger they’re showing now, and if you put guns on campus, here’s another opportunity for the loss of life.”

Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson, vice chair for the committee, asked Rep. Steube if there would be mental health screenings for those chosen to carry guns on school campuses. Steube responded that school superintendents may require additional screenings at any time — that includes mental health screenings. But they are not required.

 Palm Beach County Democrat Jeff Clemens said he felt Steube was sincere in crafting the legislation, but “I’m still not all the way there yet.” He said that Palm Beach County schools pay for police officers to work on school campuses. “From my perspective, if we’re going to do this, we should do this the right way and that’s to hire, and the state should pay for, school police officers to be in school full-time doing this job.”

The bill than passed by a party line 3-2 vote.

In 2013, a similar bill passed two committees but failed to get a vote on the floor; last year, legislation resembling Steube’s was approved by the full House, but didn’t get anywhere in the Senate. But this year it appears to have traction in the Legislature’s upper body.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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