With two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session, Florida House lawmakers likely will run out the clock with an investigation into how government agencies responded to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School before, during and after Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three educators, and wounded many others.
Monday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran nudged through a committee vote approving the legislative investigation.
It’s the perfect pivot, a distraction so that legislators don’t have to acknowledge what they’ve already made clear: They’d rather grandstand than deal with the most substantive and compelling issue of the session — gun control, specifically, even the thought of an assault weapons ban.
Last week, House lawmakers debated whether porn is a public health risk. Not so assault weapons, though, the merits of which they refused to debate as surviving students watched, in shock, from the gallery.
On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider a package of no-brainer proposals that would raise the age to 21 to legally buy an assault weapon in Florida; impose a three-day waiting period for the majority of gun purchases; and allow authorities to “seize and hold firearms” from people who are considered a danger to others or themselves.
This last proposal is important — the so-called “red flag” legislation was going nowhere this session until the extent of Cruz’s violent behavior and the size of his arsenal, at age 19, was revealed to the public. Of course, this remains among the information that most needs investigation: What did authorities know about Cruz’s mental state before the shootings and what did they do about what they knew?
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel is in the hot seat right now, with calls for his suspension, his ouster — his head on a platter — coming from various quarters around the state. Israel, indeed, has a lot to answer for: Israel says his department responded to 23 calls to Cruz’s home for troubling or violent incidents. There never was an arrest; never an involuntary commitment for a mental health evaluation, as allowed by state law.
Last week, an obviously pained Israel disclosed that Scot Peterson, the sheriff’s resource officer assigned to Stoneman Douglas High School, stood outside for four minutes while Cruz was shooting inside, a stunning admission.
Gov. Rick Scott wisely rejected premature calls from Republicans to suspend the Democratic sheriff — bids for political gain or payback can’t be ignored, even in a tragedy’s aftermath — and instead directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate BSO’s actions. FDLE is precisely the state entity to conduct a down-the-middle, just-the-facts investigation.
As for the Legislature, the House’s concern over who did what would have more credibility if lawmakers dug into the Department of Children & Families’ action, or inaction, in the Cruz case. DCF staffers, at one troubling incident, declared Cruz stable, not a threat. But the House is giving DCF a pass.
On Valentine’s Day, 17 people were killed in a Parkland school. Floridians need all the information possible to determine what went wrong. It’s clear that plenty did.
The student activists have made their priorities clear. So have their adult supporters — who can vote. Lawmakers must to make their priorities clear, too, for all of Florida to see. They’ve got two weeks to do it.