TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to meet Friday with families of the 17 people killed in a school shooting and sign a $400 million school safety bill with new gun controls opposed by the NRA and a plan to arm staff that teachers don’t want.
State Rep. Jared Moskowitz – a Democrat who represents the South Florida district where the shooting happened – said in a text that Scott will sign the bill Friday. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the same.
“The community’s demanding action; they want something done,” Rubio said on CBS television. “I believe he’ll sign it today.”
Meanwhile, the 19-year-old former student accused of opening fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 made his initial appearance before a judge on 17 attempted murder charges added this week by the grand jury. In the brief hearing Friday, Nikolas Cruz stood with his head bowed as he appeared via video conference. He is also charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder.
Cruz’s public defender withdrew an initial not guilty plea, leaving him to “stand mute” for now, but has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table and sentence him to life in prison instead. Prosecutors have not announced a decision.
But all of Friday’s focus was on the Florida Legislature, which delivered the school safety bill to Scott on Thursday. The bill narrowly passed the House and Senate, and falls short of what he wanted and what survivors of the massacre demanded. Florida’s teachers union and the National Rifle Association are opposed.
The measure would raise the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, extend a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns and ban bump stocks that allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire.
In schools, it would create a “guardian” program enabling staff with law enforcement training and school district approval to carry concealed handguns on campus. It would create new mental health programs for schools and establish an anonymous tip line where students and others could report threats. It also seeks to improve communication between schools, law enforcement and state agencies.
The NRA opposes raising age limits to buy weapons or imposing new waiting periods. In a statement Thursday, NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer called the bill “a display of bullying and coercion” that would violate Second Amendment rights and punish law-abiding citizens.
Teachers, meanwhile, called on Scott to use his line-item veto power to zero out the $67 million set aside for the program to train and arm school employees. The Florida Education Association sent a letter to Scott on Thursday saying only trained law enforcement officers should have guns in schools.
The Republican governor, who is expected to seek a U.S. Senate seat later this year, has called for raising the minimum age to purchase any type of gun and said he does not support arming teachers. Instead, he wanted lawmakers to adopt his own $500 million proposal to put at least one law enforcement officer in every school.
The governor has 15 days to sign the measure, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican and one of the main sponsors of the legislation, says he expects Scott will sign it.
“The bill is far too comprehensive for the governor to let a few provisions prevent the positive changes this bill embodies,” Galvano said.
President Donald Trump congratulated Florida lawmakers, saying they “passed a lot of very good legislation.” Trump also said the White House is working on a plan to ban bump stocks and efforts to enhance background checks were “moving along well” in Congress.
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was killed, said more needs to be done, but there’s enough good in the bill that it should become law.
“My precious daughter Meadow’s life was taken, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But make no mistake: I’m a father, and I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to make sure I’m the last dad to ever read a statement of this kind.”
Associated Press writers Terry Spencer, Jennifer Kay and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s complete coverage of the Florida school shooting here: https://apnews.com/tag/Floridaschoolshooting .