Sunday, April 14, 2024

Guns on campus, road work & other topical items

Guns on campus

Last week’s most recent firearms massacre didn’t happen at a Florida college. The Oregon tragedy, though, will be part of the rising debate over whether to let students at Florida Atlantic University and the other 10 state universities arm themselves on campus.

A bill to do so failed this year, when the Florida House quit the regular session with three days remaining because of a dispute with the Senate over Medicaid expansion. Many key bills never got to a final vote. The legislation passed three House committees and two in the Senate. Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, whose district includes FAU, voted against the bill. Bill Hager, whose House district includes FAU, wasn’t a member of the committees that voted on the legislation.

The 2016 versions received approval last month from one committee in each chamber. The legislative session begins on Jan. 12.

Florida is one of 19 states that don’t allow students to have firearms on campus. Twenty-three states leave the decision to the individual university. Eight states allow concealed carry on campus. Supporters of the legislation contend that last week’s shooting at Umpqua Community College—nine dead, seven wounded—shows that what they derisively call “gun-free zones” invite such attacks and leave students unable to protect themselves.

Opponents of the Florida legislation include all the campus police chiefs—including FAU’s Charles Lowe—all the university presidents—including FAU’s John Kelly—and the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System. They argue that the legislation would make campuses less safe, and could put police officers at risk if they must respond to a shooting. The only House Republican to vote no last month is an ex-cop.

The 2016 bills are HB 4001 and SB 68. They would allow any student who has a concealed carry permit to have a gun at any “university facility.” That would include dorms, libraries or stadiums, where I’m told that students sometimes consume large quantities of alcohol. The legislation would apply mostly to upperclassmen, since you must be 21 to obtain a concealed carry permit.

The Legislature rejected a similar attempt in 2011. The issue arose again after a gunman wounded three students last November during an attack in Strozier Library at Florida State University. The new angle supporters have injected is that female students must be able to protect themselves from sexual assault. One of the House co-sponsors is the woman whose district includes Tallahassee.

Supporters don’t acknowledge it, but all their arguments rest on this premise: young people whose brains aren’t fully developed—that doesn’t happen until at least age 25—and haven’t received extensive firearms training could use a gun safely and effectively during a crisis without endangering themselves or others. It’s a dubious premise, in large part because of this state’s casual attitude toward guns.

Floridians can obtain a concealed carry permit after as few as two hours of training. For comparison, the police academy at Palm Beach State College requires 88 hours of training—most of them devoted to judgment, not mechanics. Any fool can learn how to fire a gun. Such training also presumes that a police officer will be on duty and thus would not have been, say, drinking.

Supporters also maintain that campus police departments can’t respond quickly enough to such incidents. They cite the case of Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 students at Virginia Tech University in 2007. Actually, FAU offers a good example of how law enforcement can respond quickly.

A year after Cho’s rampage, three shots were fired at one of FAU’s student apartments. Though it was final exam week, FAU police instituted a 10-hour lockdown, to be certain that the shooter was in custody. Virginia Tech police mistakenly assumed that they had caught the shooter after two murders. That mistake cost many lives.

In 2008, FAU used a new student notification system that police had implemented after Virginia Tech. Two minutes after the shooting, 15 Boca Raton officers had joined five campus cops. No one was hurt.

Florida already allows students and faculty members to have stun guns or any other non-lethal weapon. Amateurs thus can defend themselves without the danger of killing the wrong person. Even Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, in voting for this year’s version suggested “further training” for students who wished to carry firearms on campus.

The 2016 bills contain no such requirement, which is just one reason the university system continues to oppose them. Here’s another reason:

Supporters say states that ban guns on campus make students potential targets. The eight states that allow weapons, they claim, thus discourage murderous attacks. One of those states is Oregon.

Oh, and there are no bills to end the ban on bringing weapons into the Capitol, where the Legislature meets.

Roads & bridges

Most people don’t care how road and bridge projects get designated, financed and built. The system also can be confusing. The system, however, matters. Which makes tonight’s Florida Department of Transportation meeting important.

The local agency that sets road and bridge priorities for Palm Beach County is the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Many local officials serve on its board; Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie is the chairman. The MPO gets involved when federal and/or state money will finance a project.

Ultimately, though, the Florida Department of Transportation decides which of those priorities to approve. Tonight at the agency’s District 4 office in Fort Lauderdale, the state will present its list of projects for the five budget years starting in mid-2016.

District 4 includes Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties, but 85 percent of the money goes to work in Palm Beach and Broward. The most prominent area example is the Spanish River Boulevard interchange at Interstate 95, due to open in mid-2017.

Also coming, however, is more money for what MPO Director Nick Uhren called “local initiatives” that can help the region’s transportation grid in small ways. One of those initiatives is a “shared lane” project to help bicycle and pedestrian travel on Palmetto Park Road. It will run from State Road 7 to Northwest 2nd Avenue, at City Hall.

Though the money won’t be available for at least four years, Uhren cites it as example of how the system can help individual communities. Palmetto Park is a county road. The money is federal. The idea is local. Haynie told me that it came out an MPO discussion about the lack of options for traveling east-to-west.

Yes, for all the deserved, big-money attention to I-95 and the Florida Turnpike, South Florida also is thinking about ways to get around without using a car. Money for a second Tri-Rail station in Boca Raton will be ready in three years. Study continues on commuter service along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks that run though downtown Boca and Delray Beach and in 2017 will carry All Aboard Florida trains between Miami and Orlando.

Delray Beach parking meters

Expect a lively discussion tonight when the Delray Beach City Commission discusses beach parking meters.

The proposal is to standardize the hours for when people must pay to park at the beach itself and at meters east of the Intracoastal Waterway. The Parking Management Advisory Board started kicking this around three years ago, when the idea was to extend the hours for meters until midnight. Then it became 10 p.m., but restaurant owners complained that they could suffer because diners can find free space in the downtown core.

So now the meters are required until 8 p.m., but the requirement kicks in earlier on the weekend. The proposal is to standardize hours at 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily and on the weekends. Or you just can live within walking distance.

Setback waiver?

Three weeks ago, the Delray Beach City Commission couldn’t decide whether to allow a setback waiver for the Samar hotel-condo project near Osceola Park. Mayor Cary Glickstein complained to Planning and Zoning Director Tim Stillings that the staff’s presentation didn’t offer a “compelling reason” for why the commission should approve waivers to the upper floors of a project “abutting a residential neighborhood.”

Apparently, the staff listened. The two-page report the commission got from the staff last month has become nine pages, with lots of graphics. The project would be on the west side of Southeast Fifth Avenue between Southeast Second Street and Southeast Third Street—a total of almost two acres. The hotel would have 122 rooms. There would be 35 condos, along with some retail space.

As with Chabad East Boca, the issue is compatibility with an adjoining single-family home neighborhood. Unlike that project, though, the homeowners association in Osecola Park sent a letter of support.

Closed-door Atlantic Crossing meeting

Before tonight’s regular meeting, the Delray commission also will hold yet another closed-door session on the Atlantic Crossing lawsuit. The notice refers to a discussion about a settlement, but the city hasn’t heard a settlement offer from the developers. You can assume that the commission won’t agree to a settlement that allows Atlantic Crossing to proceed without the developers adding back an access road from Federal Highway.

About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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