Gov. Rick Scott wasn’t tipping his hand this week when it came to a school-safety bill that has dominated the Capitol.
That was clear as Scott faced a single-minded press corps.
The topic during a media scrum Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting was the legislative debate about a bill (HB 7026) that stems from the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.
Scott, who offered his own safety package after the school shooting that killed 17 people, let it be known he will wait until the legislation hits his desk before deciding whether to sign, veto or let the measure become law without his signature.
“When a bill makes it to my desk, I’ll do what they don’t seem to be doing in Washington, I’m going to review the bill line by line,” Scott, who is widely expected to run for U.S. Senate this year, said. “And the group that I’m going to be talking to, the group that I care about right now, because it impacted them so much, is the families.”
Scott was peppered with the questions hours before the House approved the bill. Asked if he would sign the bill if there were no changes, Scott replied, “I’m going to take my time and read the bill.”
When asked about his response since the families of those killed have said they support the Legislature’s proposal, Scott didn’t budge.
“When the bill makes it to my desk, I’m going to take the time, I’m going to read the bill, and I’m going to talk to families,” Scott said.
Scott was then asked if the Legislature’s plan to allow trained school employees, including some teachers, to carry firearms would be a deal-breaker. The Senate this week scaled back part of the bill to limit the number of teachers who could be armed.
“I’ve been clear, I don’t think we ought to be arming teachers,” Scott said. “I think we ought to be increasing our law- enforcement presence, I want law-enforcement presence in all our schools, so that’s what I’m going to focus on. What the Senate did was a step in the right direction. But again. I’m going to read the bill.”
Next, Scott was asked if he should have first advised lawmakers of what he would be willing to sign, in part so parents wouldn’t get their hopes up that any bill out of the Legislature would be approved.
“I’ve been clear,” Scott said. “I’m going to read the bill, and I’m going to talk to parents. It’s horrible what happened to the 17 families that lost their loved ones. I can’t imagine what happened to them. I don’t want it to happen again. But I’m going to do what they’re not doing in Washington, take the time to read the bills.”
Asked how long any decision would take, Scott replied, “I’m going to go through the bill. I’m going to talk to parents.”
Another question focused on the possibility of vetoing funding for the “guardian” program, the part of the bill that could lead to armed school employees.
“I’ll make all those decisions after I read the bill, after I talk to parents,” came the reply.
Next came a question about whether Scott could call a special session on school and gun safety if he doesn’t like the bill.
“I’m going to go through the process,” Scott said. “If a bill makes it to my desk, then I’m going to take my time to review it. Then I’ll make a decision after that.”
Finally, he faced a question about whether anything in the bill could prevent him from signing it.
“I’ve been clear,” he concluded. “I’m going to read, I’m going to talk to parents, I don’t think we ought to be arming teachers.”
‘THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS’ BRING PUSHBACK
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said she’s been inundated with angry and hateful messages after she said “thoughts and prayers” were the best way to stop the evil behind mass shootings like the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
“The pushback has been incredible. As my daughter called it, it was the quote heard ‘round the world,” Stargel told The News Service of Florida.
Stargel said her son, who lives in Chile, told her it showed up in his news feeds.
The senator called the reaction “unfortunate.” Lawmakers have passed a $400 million “comprehensive piece of legislation” that addresses firearms, mental health, school resource officers and school hardening, she said.
“So we’re not just thinking and praying. But I think the pushback is indicative of the hate and anger that’s going on in our culture,” Stargel said.
Stargel remains unapologetic for her comments, delivered during debate on the school-safety measure this week.
“I don’t know when it became inappropriate to pray for our country, pray for people, have compassion, common decency, kindness,” she said.
A final nail was apparently driven Wednesday into this year’s effort to eliminate Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system.
The issue for all practical matters died a week earlier when a revived Senate bill (SB 150) to repeal the no-fault auto insurance system --- commonly known as PIP --- failed to get through the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.
On Wednesday, Scott during the Cabinet meeting subtly offered praise to Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, who expressed concerns about the bill during the subcommittee meeting.
“Dave, you did a good job on PIP,” Scott told Altmaier after the commissioner’s appearance.
Last week Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican sponsoring the PIP repeal bill, noted Altmaier’s appearance at the meeting indicated a lack of support for the bill from Scott or state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Was budget dispute manufactured to keep the budget open pending key vote on school safety today?” --- Senator Tom Lee (@TomLeeFL) on Wednesday, referring to a delay in reaching agreement on a state budget that will force an extended session. Speculation centered on House leaders trying to use budget items as leverage for support on the school-safety bill.