Florida Senate Focuses On Public School Mental Health Spending

Florida – The day after Nikolas Cruz went on a shooting spree at his former high school, the Florida Senate budget committee approved a plan to steer $100 million to public schools for mental-health screening and services and to boost funding for school safety programs.

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who will take over as Senate president in November, pushed for the boost in funding for the plan, which had originally been allocated $40 million. The Senate also wants a $13 million increase for “safe school funding,” used primarily for school resource officers.

Galvano said he is also exploring what, if anything, lawmakers can do to prevent the sale of guns to people like Cruz, who was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and who left a years-long trail of telltale signs of mental illness.

Like Floridians throughout the state, legislators in the Capitol reeled as news continued to emerge about the mass shooting.

Several Broward County lawmakers rushed to South Florida.

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a graduate of the Parkland high school, called the scene “surreal.”

“I got here last night. My high school looked like a war zone. Streets that I drive all the time looked like a war zone,” Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said in a telephone interview Thursday morning.

The neighborhood surrounding the school was peppered with mobile command centers and mass triage units on cordoned-off streets, Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz’s 4-year-old son was learning how to write his name when his teacher’s daughter was mowed down by Cruz, whose lengthy history of disturbing behavior prompted reports to the FBI identifying him as dangerous.

The FBI acknowledged Friday that it had received a call Jan. 5 from a person expressing concern about Cruz’s behavior and the potential that he could conduct a school shooting. But the FBI acknowledged that it did not properly handle the report, with the information not forwarded to a Miami field office for investigation.

Moskowitz, meanwhile, said he doesn’t know what to say to parents who ask him what state lawmakers are going to do to prevent future tragedies.

“We’ll do the same thing we’ve been doing. Which is nothing. We live in a state that if you try to do anything with gun laws and you’re a local official, we will throw you in jail,” he said. “I mean this kid was telling everybody what he was going to do. He was basically wearing a neon sign saying, ‘I am going to come and kill people.’ And yet, he bought a gun legally.”

Florida law bars people who have been involuntarily committed under the Baker Act from purchasing firearms. A 2013 law expanded that prohibition to individuals who voluntarily admit themselves for mental-health treatment.

But Scott indicated he might want an even broader prohibition.

“If someone is mentally ill, they should not have access to a gun,” said Scott, who spoke Thursday with House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Galvano said he, too, is examining the issue.

“We need to explore that issue and understand both the political realities and then the physical realities of someone who has a chronic history of posting things on social media that a lay person could identify as warped. How someone like that, in the existing system, could end up with a firearm that ultimately engages in this,” he said.

But what the shape of legislation would be is unknown.

“I’m looking into that. We’re going to have that discussion. I don’t have a specific answer right now. But we can’t ignore that aspect of it,” Galvano said. “While we’re off having a debate, there are things we can do today to make our students safer.”

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