As Floridians continue to process the incomprehensible slaughter of 14 children and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, another catastrophe struck South Florida this week when a pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University.
The latest tragedy, which left at least six people dead and at least as many injured, came less than a week after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that had been quickly put together in response to the deaths at the Broward County high school, the nation’s second-worst school shooting.
The collapse of the 950-ton pedestrian bridge eclipsed other dreadful news Thursday: the release of a video showing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school-resource officer Scot Peterson standing outside the building where gunman Nikolas Cruz was picking off students.
Just a day before the release of the video, students nationwide participated in a school walk-out to show their allegiance to the Parkland school and to honor the teenagers and faculty who died.
But on Friday, the country’s eyes were turned to the cars trapped beneath the rubble in Miami-Dade County, where authorities had abandoned hope of recovering anyone alive.
It’s another national moment for the governor, who has assumed the dubious distinction of the state’s mourner-in-chief.
Scott quickly joined local and federal officials on the scene, promising a full investigation and pointing the finger at the university for the disaster.
With the end of the Legislative Session and what feels like perpetual anguish for many of those even far removed from the tragedies in Parkland and Miami, perhaps it’s time to set aside the snark and the sarcasm and focus on compassion and kindness.
“Everything we do, every step, every breath should bring joy and happiness to us,” Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh advised on Twitter this week. “Life is already full of suffering; we don’t need to create more.”
All about the Benjamins
The week began on a unified note with the Legislature finishing its business Sunday, a tad overdue, by passing the state’s $88.7 billion budget.
And Scott — who will be forced to leave office this year due to term limits — wasted little time completing the work on his last Florida spending plan. The governor signed the budget Friday, using his using his red pen to slash $64 million in projects and other budget decisions.
“Today, Florida is strong and I am proud of our hard work over the past seven years to grow the economy, invest in education, protect the environment and keep our families safe,” Scott wrote in a budget-transmittal letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “While this is my final budget as governor, I am confident that the Securing Florida’s Future budget will continue to advance the priorities of Florida families for years to come and keep Florida’s future strong.”
The budget includes tax cuts, one of Scott’s chief priorities.
And it includes what Scott called “record funding” for K-12 schools — which will receive an average $101.50 per-student bump — and the university system, where performance funding was increased by $20 million.
The state’s school superintendents, however, were not happy with the K-12 funding, saying the way it was structured gives districts too little money to address rising operational costs. The superintendents asked Scott to call a special session to address the issue — an idea Scott effectively rejected in signing the budget.
The budget also includes $65 million to deal with the state’s opioid crisis, which was another priority for the governor.
Scott praised pay raises in the spending plan for law enforcement officers, including the Florida Highway Patrol, and workers at the Department of Juvenile Justice.
And he lauded the Legislature’s support for requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators to provide backup power. That became an issue after residents of a Broward County nursing home died following Hurricane Irma.
But Scott, as well as Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, said the 2018 Session may be best remembered for the response following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at the Parkland high school.
The shooting led to a $400 million school-safety initiative and legislation imposing new restrictions on gun purchases.
“Probably the most important thing we did this year is we listened to the families of Parkland. In very short period of time, we came together and passed historic legislation to make our schools safer,” Scott said Sunday. “This is my last regular legislative session, and I couldn’t be more proud of this session than all eight sessions I’ve been a part of.”
Lawyers, guns and money
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which wrapped up public hearings this week, will be the latest host of the gun-control debate.
Facing a May 10 deadline, the commission will start meeting Monday in the Senate chamber in Tallahassee as it considers what proposals to place on the November ballot.
The panel, which meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place issues directly on the ballot, has scheduled seven floor sessions to wade through three-dozen proposals before March 27.
One measure (Proposal 3), sponsored by Commissioner Roberto Martinez of Miami, will certainly spark debate, as it has attracted several amendments related to gun control in the wake of the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland.
The proposal was initially designed to remove an obsolete provision in the Florida Constitution that bars illegal immigrants from owning land.
But Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, has filed an amendment that would also require anyone purchasing a firearm to be 21 years old. And it would require at least a three-day waiting period after a gun purchase to carry out a “comprehensive background check.” It would ban “bump stocks,” devices added to weapons to greatly increase their firing capacity.
The provisions are already included in the law signed last week by Scott, but placing them in the Constitution would prevent future legislatures from undoing the restrictions. The National Rifle Association has filed a lawsuit challenging the age requirement.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale has another proposed amendment that would ban assault-style weapons.
Also, Commissioner Hank Coxe of Jacksonville has filed an amendment that would raise the age of buying a firearm to 21 and would impose a 10-day waiting period. It also would ban bump stocks. Commissioners Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Sherry Plymale of Palm City and Frank Kruppenbacher of Orlando support Coxe’s amendment.
Another controversial proposal up for consideration would remove from the state Constitution the so-called “no-aid” provision, which prevents public spending on churches and other religiously affiliated groups.
Other proposals would require all school superintendents to be appointed; ban greyhound racing; require businesses to use E-Verify or a similar system to determine the immigration-related eligibility of employees; and ban vaping in workplaces.
Story of the week
Gov. Scott signed the state’s $88.7 billion budget, vetoing $64 million in projects and budget decisions.
Quote of the week
“It’s exactly the opposite of what we had intended, and we want to extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of those who have been affected. The bridge was about collaboration, about neighborliness, about doing the right thing, but today, we’re sad. And all we can do is promise a very thorough investigation, getting to the bottom of this, and mourn those who we’ve lost.” — Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg, after the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at the school killed at least six people Thursday.