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Citing immediate Parkland response, lawmakers ask why Pulse memorial still lacks dollars

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As budget negotiations ramp up this week — the penultimate week of the legislative session — lawmakers are taking a closer look at appropriations for both statewide initiatives and local projects in their home communities.

One line in the budget caught the eye of Orlando lawmakers, who noted that funding for a permanent memorial in honor of the 49 victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando had evaporated.

The memorial originally got $245,000 in the Senate budget, but on Wednesday's conference committee the number was down to $0. 

Last year when the Legislature passed a package to address school safety in wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the package included $1 million for a permanent memorial to the 17 victims at the high school in northwestern Broward County.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, proposed an amendment then that would include $1 million for a Pulse memorial, which did not pass. He said this year he is hopeful that they can secure some funding, based on conversations he's had with budget leaders. 

"Pulse was the worst mass shooting in the history of Florida .. our 49 angels deserve to be memorialized with a safe space for their families to heal and for future generations to learn," Smith said. "The fact that the Pulse line item is even on the budget shows that there was interest."

There is currently an interim memorial at the nightclub, with an offering wall, ribbon wall of photographs, a modest green space and a place on the original sign for the Pulse nightclub for visitors to write a message.

The onePULSE Foundation, a non-profit started by Pulse Nightclub owner Barbara Poma, has hosted an international design competition for the permanent memorial and museum. According to the group's website, a winner will be picked this summer.

Smith noted that the ask for Pulse is much less than the percentage of what was funded for memorials commemorating the Oklahoma City bombings or the 9/11 memorial in New York City. 

"What's important to understand is there is a precedent for state governments funding memorials or museums after an act of terror," he said.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said she was troubled by the disparity in funding between Parkland and Pulse. 

"The fact that we immediately supported a memorial but did not take that type of action when 49 mostly queer, black and brown people were killed at Pulse is disheartening and disappointing," Eskamani said. "We have the opportunity to get this right."
 
Eskamani, who has also had conversations with both House and Senate budget chairs, said the funding is "on their radar." She said she's pushing to at least get the original $245,000 appropriation from the Senate budget. 
 
"It's not the full amount, but it is something," she said. "I feel good about it." 
 

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