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School safety bill passes Florida House with requirements for arresting kids

The amendment was added after the body camera footage of a 6-year-old getting arrested in Orlando sparked national outrage.

TALLAHASSEE — For the first legislative session since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018, Florida’s bill on school safety didn’t spark national headlines and emotional controversy over teachers and school staff carrying guns. It did, however, serve as a reminder of the ripple effects that tragedy still has on Florida’s political consciousness, after lawmakers vowed to keep the issue of school safety alive.

On the floor of the Florida House, though, an amendment was added onto the bill that would require police departments to have policies in place regarding the arrest of children under 10. The amendment was in response to an incident in Orlando that sparked widespread outrage, when 6-year-old Kaia Rolle was arrested at school for throwing a tantrum.

Because she kicked and punched three school employees, she was arrested on charges of misdemeanor battery. But by the time she was arrested, according to body camera footage, she had already calmed down.

It’s rare for amendments by Democrats to be accepted onto Republican bills at such a late stage of the process. The sponsor of the amendment, minority leader Rep. Kionne McGhee of Miami, said it was a moment where the House signaled uniform opposition to what happened to Rolle, who was watching in the House gallery with her grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland.

“We are stewards of your future,” McGhee said to Rolle while making a speech on the floor. “We do not believe in criminalizing childhood tantrums ... just know your call for help has been answered.”

The amendment did not ban arrests of young children, which is what a different bill filed by Reps. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, would have done. Still, she said it was a “step in the right direction," even though she said that in the case of Rolle, the Orlando police department had a similar policy in place but it wasn’t followed.

Both the amendment and the entire bill passed the House unanimously. It’s unclear whether the Senate will take up the piece on child arrests because its version of Eskamani’s bill stalled in committee on Tuesday.

The rest of the school safety bill would allow law enforcement to investigate and possibly press charges against people who intentionally submit false tips through the state’s see-something-say-something app, called FortifyFL.

It also adds more teeth to a process by which school superintendents can lose their pay if their district isn’t in compliance with the post-Parkland school safety laws, which require more secure infrastructure, more reporting to the state and armed security on every campus. Under this bill, if the state’s Office of Safe Schools discovers that a district is out of compliance, the education commissioner will require the district school board to withhold the superintendent’s salary.

It also requires districts and charter schools to adopt a plan to reunite students with their parents after an emergency event, and adds mental health crisis training requirements for police and other armed security on campus.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, said the bill is designed to “sharpen” what the Legislature has already done to beef up school security since Parkland.

“If we could save one life of one child with the work we do here, all these days and all these extra hours we spend are well worth it," he said.