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The Florida House backs boosting Jewish school security

Rep. Randy Fine, chairman of the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. (Image courtesy of News Service Florida.)
Rep. Randy Fine, chairman of the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. (Image courtesy of News Service Florida.)

The Florida House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would provide $45 million to Jewish schools and other types of facilities to bolster security, as the proposal’s sponsor pointed to “rampant” anti-Semitism amid the war between Israel and Hamas.

House members passed the proposal (HB 7-C) while also approving resolutions supporting Israel and a measure to increase sanctions against Iran, a backer of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The votes came on the second day of a special legislative session.

Gov. Ron DeSantis in recent weeks has made support for Israel a focus of his 2024 presidential campaign. He also has taken actions such as declaring a state of emergency in Florida related to the war and authorizing flights aimed at bringing Americans home from Israel.

The bill to bolster security at Jewish day schools and other facilities was sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who recently had a public break with DeSantis. Fine, who is Jewish, endorsed former President Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary and essentially asserted that DeSantis has not done enough to combat anti-Semitism in the state. DeSantis has argued that Fine’s criticisms were politically motivated.

Fine said the money provided in the bill would help keep Jewish children safe. The Senate is expected to take up the issue Wednesday.

“We shouldn’t live in a world where we need these kinds of things,” Fine said. “But we do live in a world where, unfortunately, anti-Semitism is rampant.”

The $45 million in the bill is broken down into three pots of money:

— $15 million would go to the state Department of Education for grants that could be used by Jewish day schools and preschools. The grants could go toward such things as purchasing and installing lighting, security cameras, fencing and shatter-resistant glass for windows.

— $10 million would go to the education department to provide grants to Jewish day schools and preschools for “nonhardening security measures,” which could include hiring security workers and training them on threat awareness, emergency procedures and first aid.

— $20 million is designed to be more flexible in how it can be spent and would go to the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which was created during the 2023 legislative session.

The program is meant to provide money to organizations that are “at high risk of violent attacks or hate crimes,” according to a House staff analysis. The bill also would make a change to allow schools and museums to draw from the funding.

Some Democrats asked questions Tuesday about whether historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, would be able to receive some of the funding. Fine said the colleges and universities could request money from the $20 million.

House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, pointed to increased security concerns at historically Black schools.

“I will tell you that our HBCUs in particular have been working very hard with the (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security to conduct risk assessments and to understand where there are holes and gaps in security on their campuses,” Driskell said.

A Senate version of the bill (SB 6-C) was approved Monday by the Fiscal Policy Committee. It would provide $35 million, including $25 million for Jewish day schools and preschools and $10 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

Senate sponsor Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, has filed two proposed amendments that would align the Senate measure with the House proposal.

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.