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Local

Safer schools means more armed security, lawmakers say

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, wants schools to have the funding to increase the number of armed school resource officers in Florida schools, and says they should “harden” their entrances after 17 people were slain Wednesday at a Parkland high school.

In a statement released Thursday, Galvano said the dozens of people wounded or killed after a 19-year-old former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student open fired was “nothing short of devastating and tragic. My heart breaks for the students, families, administrators, first responders and law enforcement officers and all who have been impacted by the shooting.”

The Senate president-designate offered a plea to his colleagues in the Legislature on what lawmakers could do in the wake of the shooting.

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“While currently we have armed resource officers at a number of our schools coupled with other law enforcement personnel, we must identify where the gaps exist and immediately work to fill them,” Galvano said.

He also called for “an appropriation of $100 million for mental health screening, counseling and training,” and to make sure schools are using security audits put in place after the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut more than five years ago. He also pushed for a discussion on how the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was able to get a gun.

“(We) must have the conversation about how this individual, with noted and apparent mental health issues, was able to obtain a firearm such as this and discuss measures to prevent this from happening again,” he said. “The safety of our children in Florida schools should be the No. 1 priority for all of us in public service. Enough is enough.”

Galvano headed for Parkland Thursday afternoon, Macey Smith, his legislative assistant, told the Bradenton Herald.

State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, told the Bradenton Herald in an email, “(At) this moment my heart is still broken for the victims and their families of this horrible and senseless shooting. We are now and will continue to pray for all of those who have had their lives torn apart. There will be a time to discuss actions but for now we must care for and support the families that have lost all that matters the most to them.”

State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.

State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota — who has this session pushed bills to allow concealed weapons in courthouses and churches — said he would be re-introducing a school safety bill that would take Galvano’s suggestion about school resource officers to the next level.

The bill, which he noted has been shot down over the past six years, would offer school districts the opportunity to appoint “school safety officers” that would have more training than a school resource officer, active shooter training and prior law enforcement or military experience. Districts could establish certain policies like storing their firearms in a safe on school property.

“My intention is to bring that bill up for committee next week,” he said.

Steube said he doesn’t believe there was a loophole in the gun purchasing process that would have stopped the shooter from accessing the weapon used in Parkland.

“You’re not going to ever prevent evil,” he said. “People find out another way.”

He added that Galvano’s call to provide more funding for mental health counseling is “part of the solution,” and if school administrators believe a child may be a risk they should be screened.

Manatee County School Board Chairman Scott Hopes said these proposals aren’t “about guns. It’s about protecting students and staff when they’re in our schools.”

The school district is “all hands on deck” in identifying safety needs, and will have a workshop to address funding for more school resource officers and work to assess the district’s mental health services.

“There are some things we can do now,” Hopes said. “There are other things that are going to take help from the Legislature.”

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

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