A plan to ask Broward voters if they want to increase property taxes to improve school security won approval Tuesday from the county's state legislators.
The proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, now moves to Tallahassee. If approved by the Florida House, Senate and governor, Broward voters would be asked in the August 2014 primary if they want to increase taxes to pay for police in all county public schools and provide mental health referrals for students and school staff.
Also on Tuesday, Sobel and state Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said they would pursue the same concept on a different track. They're pushing legislation that would give the voters in each of the state's 67 counties the chance to vote on the same kind of school security tax.
Voters could OK an additional property tax of 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property value. The owner of a $250,000 home with a full homestead exemption could pay $100 more per year.
In Broward, that could raise up to $55 million, something Sobel termed "a small price to pay for the safety of our children."
The legislation is a response to the December school massacre in Connecticut. "We are 45 days from Newtown, and now is the time for something to happen," said state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Parkland.
Debate among Broward's legislators was unusually contentious before they voted 8-4 to move forward with the proposal.
Its fate in Tallahassee, where Republicans control the Legislature, is unclear. State Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, opposed the legislation. He said if there's a need for higher taxes to pay for more school security, the County Commission, the School Board and city governments already have the authority to do that.
State Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, said she, too, did not see a need for an extra layer of government.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told legislators he supported the idea of doing something, but that a big problem with Sobel's proposal was that money wouldn't start flowing until after the August 2014 primary — assuming voters approve the tax increase — and he wants money from the state now for security.
But Runcie acknowledged under questioning from state Rep. Rick Stark, D-Weston, that he didn't have any plans that would get resource officers in each school by the end of the current school year.
Alana Greer, a Washington-based lawyer for the civil rights group the Advancement Project, said the proposal was a bad idea because a greater police presence in schools wouldn't prevent Newtown-type tragedies. The main outcome, she said, would be more arrests of minority students, she said.
Lots of behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the proposed school tax at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.
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