Florida Senate debates gun bill in rare Saturday session

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, March 03, 2018, 7:58 PM EST

The Florida Senate held a rare Saturday floor session to work out details of a gun violence prevention package that had opposition from both sides of the political aisle.

The Senate was only supposed to be in session for a few hours, but debate stretched into the evening.

Legislators adjourned just before 7 p.m. with a package that many Democrats and even some Republicans said they couldn't vote for, raising some concern that it won't pass next week.

"I think it's window dressing, and I, for one, won't be going home trying to pretend that I did something to solve the problem," Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon), said.

The biggest point of contention: House Speaker Richard Corcoran's so-called "marshal program" to allow highly-qualified teachers carry guns on campus. Critics say it could lead to more gun violence in Florida's schools.

Also, the entire legislative Black Caucus has pledged to vote against the bill if the "marshal program" program stays in — and those "no" votes would very likely doom the gun package.

There were motions on the left and right to remove it, which were all rejected.

"I stand firm in my support of that particular provision and would ask you all to not support this amendment," Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) said.

Senate leaders know the program is a top priority for Corcoran, and the bill would have to pass the House to become law.

Meanwhile, Democrats introduced several amendments aimed at banning assault-style weapons, such as the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting on Valentine's Day. Those amendments failed.

"Death hangs over us, both as a motivating factor in doing something about it, and now, the bullet is in this chamber," said Florida Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg).

The chamber at one point did approve a two-year moratorium on the sale of those guns — but that vote wound up being reversed after Republicans called for a do-over.

"Adolf Hitler confiscated all the weapons, took all the weapons, had a registry of everybody," said Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs).

Some pro-gun Republicans think the package goes too far by raising the minimum age to buy an assault-style weapon from 18 to 21 and requiring a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases in Florida.

"I don't know how the pro-NRA legislator thinks, but I would assume that they're not going to get the credit they think they're going to get by voting for it," said Sen. Minority Leader Oscar Braynon (D-Miami).

The bill is on track to pass the Senate on Monday. From there, attention turns to the House, home to some of the most pro-gun Republicans. The National Rifle Association has called on its members to oppose the package.

There are six days left in Florida's regular legislative session. If lawmakers can't reach a compromise on the gun bill by Friday, some think a special session may have to be called.