Bills to improve school safety, enhance Florida’s emergency
preparedness and response pass final Senate committee
The Florida Senate Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), today passed a number of bills to improve the safety and security of Florida residents and visitors. The legislation builds on prior legislative action to improve school safety and to enhance emergency preparedness and response capabilities through investments in Florida’s infrastructure.
The Committee passed Senate Bill (SB) 7040, Implementation of the Recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission (MSDHS Commission), sponsored by the Committee on Education, chaired by Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. (R-Hialeah Gardens). The legislation provides additional safeguards for Florida’s students and schools by building upon the school safety and security foundation established in the MSDHS Public Safety Act (SB 7026, 2018) and prior recommendations of the MSDHS Commission codified by the Legislature (SB 7030, 2019).
“With the second anniversary of the horrific Parkland shooting fresh on our minds, I am pleased to see key school safety legislation advance to the Senate floor,” said Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), who has identified public safety as a priority of his term as Senate President. “For the third consecutive year, the Senate is advancing public safety legislation specifically designed to enhance the safety of our students, teachers and school personnel. We recognize that this is an ongoing journey, and we will continue to listen to our communities and do all we can to keep our students safe.”
The Committee also passed Senate Bill (SB) 7020, Emergency Staging Areas, sponsored by the Senate Committee on Infrastructure and Security, chaired by former Senate President Tom Lee (R-Brandon), and SB 1166, Broadband Internet Service, sponsored by Senator Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula). Both pieces of legislation are designed to build on public safety infrastructure improvements authorized by the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (MCORES) Program (SB 7068, 2019).
“In my view, the safety and security of our residents and visitors is the first and foremost priority of any investment in infrastructure. As MCORES task forces continue their important and ongoing work to evaluate corridor design options, including recently releasing environmental avoidance feature maps, this great legislation furthers the critical public safety components of the program, authorizing statewide emergency staging areas as well as broadband enhancements in rural, underserved areas,” said President Galvano.
School Safety: Implementation of the Recommendations of the MSDHS Commission
SB 7040 addresses recommendations included in the second report from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. The bill seeks to codify recommendations for clarifications and safeguards related to the Feis Guardian Program and safe school officer training; school mental health services; school safety planning, reporting, and oversight; and school-based juvenile diversion programs.
“Through this legislation we are strengthening DOE’s oversight role, providing more tools for the Office of Safe Schools to step in when schools need assistance to comply with safety requirements,” said Senator Diaz. “The legislation also provides sheriffs with maximum flexibility to help school districts and charter schools place well-trained safe school officers at every school.”
“This legislation ensures we continue to take the steps needed to improve the delivery of mental health services in our schools,” said President Galvano. “Among other important provisions, the bill expands the mental health training required for school safety officers to align with training requirements already in place for school resource officers. This change will improve the officers’ knowledge and skills for responding to incidents involving students in crisis.”
The bill specifies that a county sheriff is responsible for providing all Feis Guardian Program training and strengthens existing training requirements, including requiring the sheriff to review and approve the results of an applicant’s psychological evaluation and drug test prior to acceptance into the program. SB 7040 also enhances safe training requirements by requiring school safety officers, who are sworn law enforcement officers commissioned by the school district, to complete mental health crisis intervention training. Further, the legislation strengthens the coordination, planning, and delivery of school mental health services through the existing Mental Health Assistance Allocation.
The legislation strengthens school safety oversight and accountability by expanding the Commissioner of Education’s responsibilities to include oversight and compliance with education-related health, welfare, safety, and security requirements of state and federal law, and by extending the oversight responsibilities of the DOE’s Office of Safe Schools.
Expansion of Fixed Broadband Service
SB 1166 transfers the broadband policy implementation from the Department of Management Services (DMS) to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). Specifically, the bill creates the Florida Office of Broadband within the DEO’s Division of Community Development, including specific duties regarding the development, marketing, and promotion of broadband.
“A great concern with lack of broadband in certain rural areas of our state is the impact on first responders and their ability to quickly and accurately reach Floridians in need,” said President Galvano. “Our goal is for every Floridian to have access to fixed broadband, which is critical to business, education, and most importantly, public safety.”
“The MCORES corridor study areas include many counties with relatively low populations and per capita income that are underserved by fixed broadband access,” continued President Galvano. “As broadband expands into these rural legacy communities, we can not only improve the safety of residents and visitors, but also remove existing barriers to commerce and education opportunities.”
The bill authorizes the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to use up to $5 million annually from the State Transportation Trust Fund Allocation to the MCORES Program for projects that assist in the development of broadband infrastructure within or adjacent to a multiuse corridor.
Permanent Staging Areas for Emergencies
SB 7020, Emergency Staging Areas, provides for the plan, design, and construction of permanent Staging Areas for Emergencies (SAFE) as part of Florida’s Turnpike System to facilitate prompt emergency assistance in response to a declared state of emergency.
“Recent hurricanes are an all too present reminder of the need to keep Floridians and their families as safe as possible before, during, and after a storm by proactively and strategically locating emergency supplies, including fuel reserve capacity, in key areas across the state,” said President Galvano. “We want to ensure nothing is standing in the way of critical supplies and assistance reaching communities struck by a natural disaster or an emergency situation. This legislation creates a reliable and consistent approach to emergency staging along Florida’s Turnpike System, with myriad benefits to Floridians and visitors to our state.”
“The increased availability of permanent and secure staging areas will help improve the efficiency of emergency response, making it quicker and easier to disseminate emergency supplies, including food, water, and fuel,” said Senator Lee. “During non-emergency periods, these secure areas along Florida’s Turnpike System will increase safety on our roads by providing commercial vehicle parking for drivers complying with federal hours-of-service and off-duty requirements.”
The bill directs the FDOT, in consultation with the Florida Department of Emergency Management, to consider several factors when selecting proposed sites for SAFE locations. SAFE locations must be created in geographic areas that best facilitate wide dissemination of emergency-related supplies and equipment; provide ease of access to major highways and other transportation facilities; be large enough to accommodate the staging of a significant amount of emergency-related supplies and equipment; provide space in support of emergency preparedness and evacuation activities, such as fuel reserve capacity; and, can be used during non-emergency periods for commercial motor vehicle parking. Additionally, the FDOT is required to give priority consideration to placement of such staging areas in counties with a population of 200,000 or less in which an MCORES corridor is located. The bill presents no immediate fiscal impact to state or local revenues or expenditures. Once identified, SAFE location projects would be included in the FDOT’s work program.