TALLAHASSEE — Regardless of what happens to a controversial plan to allow guns on Florida's 40 state college and public university campuses, college presidents say they want to take steps to make their campuses safer.
The Council of Presidents voted Thursday to ask the Legislature to fund a $74 million, three-year plan to beef up campus security and pay for training, other resources and equipment at the 28 colleges, which were previously called community colleges.
The proposal — which wasn't previously part of the college system's budget request — is for $37 million, or 50 percent of the total, for 2016-17 and $18.5 million for each of the following two years.
The guns-on-campus bills moving in the Legislature brought to light the need to "recognize and offer alternatives — through this investment — to address the campus security problem short of arming our students," Michael Brawer, executive director of the Association of Florida Colleges, said during the council's conference call meeting.
"It's what we think we have to do to minimize damages as it relates to the whole new world we live in and the potential for active shooters," agreed Cynthia Bioteau, president of Florida State College at Jacksonville.
The association arrived at the $74 million estimate earlier this fall by asking all of the colleges for a figure of what it would take to fortify their campuses, should the guns-on-campus measure pass. Hillsborough Community College, for instance, estimated the cost at $1 million.
Only 5 of the 28 state campuses have police or armed security.
"The proponents are largely in denial about the cost factor," Brawer said, noting that none of the legislative fiscal analyses for the bills specify a financial impact.
Also, neither of the bills (HB 4001/SB 68) is being routed through budget committees, which are tasked with analyzing and funding financial consequences of legislation.
The campus-carry bill, revived from last session, would allow more than 1.4 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida to carry firearms at state colleges and public universities.
It has gained quick traction in the Legislature this fall and is ready for the full House to vote on when session begins Jan. 12. The Senate version awaits a third and final hearing in that chamber's judiciary committee.
Despite favor from Republican lawmakers and gun-rights advocates, the proposal has vehement opposition from college and university presidents, campus police chiefs, some Florida sheriffs and student and faculty groups.
Florida's 10 Democratic members of Congress — who have no control over what the state Legislature does — joined the chorus of critics by sending a letter this week to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, urging them to "prevent" the legislation's passage.
The State University System this fall also requested $20.2 million for next year's budget to fortify campus police at the state's 12 public universities ($14 million) and improve funding for campus counseling centers ($6.2 million).
In a separate vote Thursday, the college presidents opted against asking for $20 million to improve mental health services on their campuses.
The presidents seemed to agree the issue was important but didn't rank as the highest of their priorities for the next year.
They said they didn't want to put lawmakers in the position of picking and choosing what to fund. Their top legislative priority for 2016-17 is securing $80 million to fund workforce programs, and the campus security dollars are second.
Contact Kristen M. Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow @ByKristenMClark.