He insists he wasn’t trying to get the parents of two victims of the Parkland school massacre booted out of a congressional committee this week.
But Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chief advisers, made international news after video of a confrontation between the Panhandle Republican and two dads went viral.
Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, was among the 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and faculty members slain last February, and Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was another victim, attended the U.S. House Judiciary Committee meeting to hear about legislation (HR 8) that would expand background checks for gun sales.
But the dads took offense when Gaetz, a fierce ally of President Donald Trump, said a wall keeping out illegal immigrants would have a bigger impact on reducing gun violence.
“HR 8 would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised, but a wall, a barrier on the southern border, may have, and that’s what we’re fighting for,” Gaetz said.
The Broward County parents erupted while Gaetz was trying to make his case. Following the outbursts, an irked Gaetz shook his finger at the men and asked whether they should be removed.
“Is there a process in the committee whereby if the very same people are repeatedly interrupting the time of the members, that those people will be asked to depart the committee?” Gaetz asked.
Gaetz later said he wasn’t trying to have the grieving parents tossed from the room.
“I did not want to throw the guy out,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday night while continuing to push for the president’s border wall, saying it would mean “fewer people will die at the hands of illegal aliens.”
But appearing Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Oliver called Gaetz’s remarks “very offensive,” with Oliver adding that he wanted to redirect the conversation to his son --- “the greatest person I have ever met” --- and the other 40,000 people who are victims of gun violence every year.
“I just reacted as a father,” said Oliver, who also attended Trump’s State of the Union address as the guest of Congressman Ted Deutch, a South Florida Democrat who’s been at the forefront of gun-control legislation. “You know who’s an immigrant? I’m an immigrant. I did things by the book. My son came from Venezuela. I was trying to find a safer life here. He got shot by
an American white dude. So what’s the answer for that?”
The fracas between the Parkland parents and Gaetz played out almost a year after the Feb. 14 massacre.
As the grim anniversary approaches, Florida legislators are preparing to revisit a law aimed at addressing the numerous failures surrounding the shooting.
Senate Republican leaders this week laid out plans to overhaul school-safety measures and expand a controversial program that allows school personnel to carry guns, a proposal that has overshadowed Democrats’ efforts to move away from arming school staff.
DeSantis is among the state Republican leaders who support expanding the school “guardian” program, which was approved after the Broward County school shooting. The program includes putting money into training school staff to carry weapons on school grounds. Under current law, such “guardians” are staff members whose primary duties are outside the classroom.
The Senate’ proposal (SPB 7030) would allow school districts to arm classroom teachers, look to train guardians outside the counties where they would work, and allow school districts to contract with guardians through private security firms.
Senate Education Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, wants to see the guardian program become more accessible. He’d like to give school boards, through a majority vote, the chance to participate instead of giving sheriffs discretion to implement the program, as current law allows.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has already come out in support of the proposal, which is scheduled to be heard Tuesday, two days before the Parkland shooting anniversary.
“I look forward to seeing the bill advance, and I am pleased to see that the bill will be heard next week just before the anniversary of the horrific shooting in Parkland,” Galvano said.
SOMETHING EXTRA FOR TEACHERS?
Four years after lawmakers started a controversial teacher-bonus program, DeSantis said this week he wants to scrap the “Best and Brightest” program and plow nearly $423 million into a new effort to reward teachers and principals.
The Best and Brightest program has faced opposition, at least in part, because it considers teachers’ scores on SAT or ACT college-entrance exams in determining eligibility for bonuses. The use of those scores has drawn state and federal lawsuits arguing that the program discriminates against older teachers and minority teachers.
During an event Thursday at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County, DeSantis also pointed to questions about the logic of looking at college-entrance exams in evaluating teachers.
DeSantis said the new program could provide bonuses of more than $9,000 to nearly 45,000 “highly effective” teachers at schools that showed progress on grading calculations and bonuses of up to $6,500 for principals.
“What we’re trying to do is identify those teachers that are rated highly effective and that are helping their schools move forward,” DeSantis said. “And when they’re doing that, we think they should be rewarded.”
The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union that has been a fierce critic of the Best and Brightest program, issued a news release that said it sees DeSantis’ ideas “as a start toward fixing the discriminatory and unfair provisions of that bad legislation.” But it also suggested that “competitive salaries” are the best way to attract and keep qualified teachers.
POT MAKES A BUZZ IN CAPITOL
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this week named a former banker as the state’s first cannabis czar to help get Florida’s hemp industry off the ground, State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis asked Trump to allow banks to do business with cannabis companies. And lawmakers rolled out their first attempts at dealing with a ban on smoking medical marijuana.
Marijuana advocates hailed the moves by Fried and Patronis but mostly scoffed at House and Senate proposals that critics --- including the sponsor of the Senate bill --- say won’t increase access to smokable pot for patients whose doctors say they need the treatment.
The House proposal would require doctors get the approval of a “case review panel” before they could order smokable marijuana for patients.
Under a Senate plan (SB 182) approved by a key committee Monday, patients would have to see two doctors before being allowed to smoke, adding to out-of-pocket costs. Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the measure that began as a simple repeal of the smoking ban, said he would not bring the bill to the floor unless it is significantly changed.
The Legislature’s efforts came after DeSantis gave lawmakers until March 15 --- 10 days after the annual legislative session begins --- to address the smoking issue. If the Legislature does not act, the Republican governor threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that said a Florida law banning patients from smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional.
But Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, blasted the House proposal, which will get its first hearing in a committee next week.
The measure “is a bureaucratic mess of red tape and additional boards that have to deliberate and approve whether a patient should be allowed to smoke medical cannabis after a doctor has already recommended it,” Smith said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Ron DeSantis released a proposal to revamp the “Best and Brightest” program and steer $423 million into bonuses for some teachers and principals.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “This leads to medical marijuana dispensaries handling this problem in an antiquated and dangerous manner by transporting millions of dollars in duffle bags of cash and even driving the cash endlessly around in trucks.” --- Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, referring to the state’s mainly cash-only cannabis industry.