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3 things to watch for when the Senate takes up its gun bill

SB 7026 will probably pass. But will it be acceptable to the more extreme House?
Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley, left, talks with Senate President Joe Negron. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley, left, talks with Senate President Joe Negron. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Mar. 2, 2018
Updated Mar. 2, 2018

Let's just get this out of the way: The Senate gun bill is likely to pass.

SB 7026, AKA the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act," has the support of most Republicans and even a couple Democrats.  But that doesn't mean the Senate debate over the bill will be without drama.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has already taken the unusual step of calling for a Saturday Senate session to debate and amend the legislation.

Here are three things to watch out for as the Senate debates the key issue of the 2018 legislative session during what should be a marathon floor session.

1. How much influence will Gov. Rick Scott have? 

Rick Scott finds himself at odds with Republican leadership over the key issue of arming teachers. Included in SB 7026 is a provision that would set aside $67 million to train pre-screened educators who wish to carry firearms in order to deter school shootings like the one that took place Feb. 14 in Parkland.

Read more: Black lawmakers: Armed teachers will increase Florida's gun dangers

Scott has said he opposes such a program. But the proposal could be key to ensuring that any gun reform package passes both the Senate and the more ideologically extreme House. (Recent polling shows that a healthy majority of Florida voters oppose arming teachers.)

Can Scott thread the needle and convince the Senate to scrap the teacher-arming provision?

It sure looks like he's trying. Thursday the governor made a rare surprise visit to the Senate to urge leaders to "do the right thing." When the Senate votes on Sen. Bill Montford's amendment to strip funding from the marshals program, we'll know what kind of pull the governor has on this pivotal issue.

Read more: Were Parkland families used or helped? Distrust grows over gun legislation.

2. How much influence will the NRA have? 

The National Rifle Association hates a lot of what is up for consideration in the Senate tomorrow. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer sent a blast to members Wednesday that warned, "Senators are being bullied into voting for gratuitous gun control measures in order to be able to vote on school safety."

The gun rights group opposes raising the minimum age for firearm purchases. It opposes a three-day waiting period for gun purchasers. It doesn't support a bump stock ban. The Senate bill does all of that.

Many progressives chafe at SB 7026's lack of an assault weapons ban. But if Republicans vote for a bill that contains provisions that the NRA staunchly opposes, it would be a meaningful development.

3. Will House Speaker Richard Corcoran need Democrats' help to pass whatever comes out of the Senate? 

The real fate of gun legislation will be decided in the House. Still, with so little time left in the legislative session, the Senate has a lot to say about what the House will vote on.

If the Senate passes a bill that's too politically toxic to earn the support of the pro-gun rights crowd in the House, the pivotal issue of the 2018 legislative session could be decided by Democrats.

Read more: Gun package in deep trouble in divided Florida House

If such a situation arises, it's unclear how the caucus will act. Some Democrats, like Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Coral Springs, have argued any gun reform is better than no gun reform. Some progressives have refused to vote for a package that does not include an assault weapons ban. It seems unlikely that the party will vote as a bloc.

Bottom line: if enough liberals are convinced the Senate version of gun reform won't spell real change, the Legislature might wind up passing nothing at all.

Special session, anyone?

This post has been updated to reflect the day the bill will be debated in the Senate. It is Saturday, not Friday.