Q: What provisions were made in the budget for education this year?

A: The per pupil funding increased by an average of $101.50 for the state of Florida. In St. Johns County, we were fortunate to increase by $172.10, which gives our School Board a little more funding to work with. Of course, a significant amount of this funding is for school safety and mental health programs in the schools.

Q: What can you tell us about the events leading up to the passage of SB 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act?
A: What happened in Parkland was a terrible tragedy, which cut short the lives of 14 students and three faculty members. Republicans and Democrats banded together to pass this bill, which was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott in March. The bill set new age limits, to age 21, for the purchase of all firearms; provides for a uniform gun purchase policy that requires a three-day waiting period and background check for all firearm purchases; bans bump stocks; strengthens the Baker Act by allowing law enforcement to seize a person’s gun for 24 hours if they pose a threat to others; and says that people who are unable to buy a gun due to mental health issues won’t be able to possess one either.

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Q: Basically, it sounds like some loopholes were closed?
A: This law closes significant gaps in current law to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. This bill does not prevent law abiding, responsible people from possession of any firearm. Those serving in our military and law enforcement are exempt from the new requirements.

Q: What are some other provisions of the bill?
A: We are going to invest more to protect children at school by funding more School Resource Officers throughout the state. The bill also created a voluntary program called the Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which allows school staff to be armed at school after specific training and mental health assessments. This program is voluntary for both school districts and teachers. All schools are required to perform active shooter and hostage drills and multi-agency communication will be improved. Finally, the mental health component is addressed with increases in mental health services and crisis teams that provide mental health services to youth with serious chronic mental illness.

Q: What are your thoughts on this law?

A: Parents entrust their children to our public schools. We have a duty to make them as safe as possible. Some parents I have spoken to feel that it is an epidemic of violence in our schools. Because of this, I wanted to share some information from a study by James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He clarifies that, “This is not an epidemic … Mass school shootings are incredibly rare events, furthermore, the incidents of shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the 1990s.” I am grateful that the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott took decisive action to improve school safety. We cannot stop every act of evil, but we can take steps to keep it as far away from our kids as possible.

Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you?

A: Readers can email me at Cyndi.Stevenson@myfloridahouse.gov or call my local office at (904) 823-2300.

 

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