A controversial bill that would allow schools employees to carry weapons on campus won the support of the House K12 Education Subcommittee on Wednesday.
If the proposal were to become law, principals and superintendents could designate school employees to carry concealed weapons. The employees would have to undergo extensive training, said Rep. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican sponsoring the bill.
Steube amended the proposal slightly before Wednesday's meeting; it now requires the firearm to remain on the employee throughout the school day. Steube also expanded the proposal so that it applies to both public and private schools.
"I’ve been getting feedback from principals all over the state about how strongly they support an initiative like this," Steube said.
Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton said the law would place a "huge" liability on school systems. Plus, Blanton added: "Our teachers and principals are role models. You are going to send the wrong message to these students."
Still, most members of the subcommittee supported the proposal.
"In our overwhelming desire to keep our children safe in gun-free zones, we have inadvertently made them the ideal sterile target for a madman," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. "Evil is real. It’s in the world. It will happen again. Is anybody going to be prepared?"
Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, said she, too, "embraced" the bill.
"I would hope that if a madman were to walk on a campus where my children were and his goal was to die and to take as many children [as possible] with him, there would be somebody there to stop that man from murdering my children, and that somebody would take him out before he could do that," she said.
A trio of Democratic committee members opposed the proposal: Reps. Randolph Bracy, Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed and Richard Stark.
"Personally I am against guns," Clarke-Reed said. "I don’t like them. I don’t even like to see them."
Bracy expressed concerns about possible "unintended consequences."
But the three were unable to muster enough support to defeat the proposal. It passed with the support of the committee's eight Republicans, and Democratic Reps. Karen Castor Dentel (a teacher) and Carl Zimmermann.
The bill still has a long way to go. To advance to the floor, it must now win the support of three additional committees. And the window for committee meetings is quickly shrinking.
Steube hopes the bill continues to move.
"Most counties do not have the funds to put a school resource officer in every elementary school," he said.