Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Credit: FAMU’s Facebook
Legislation moving in Florida’s special session this week would protect Jewish schools and cultural centers, but on Monday, lawmakers considered providing security grants to historically Black colleges and universities.
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the Democratic leader in the House, introduced an amendment in the bill during the House Appropriations Committee meeting to double the amount of funding from $10 million to $20 million to implement security grants to places such as schools, museums, and community centers.
“The purpose of this is because we know that there are institutions out there, including our HBCUs, that are subject to increased risk and risk levels,” Driskell said.
She also said HBCUs have a particular need for enhanced protection and have been undergoing risk assessments with the Department of Homeland Security.
In August, a white man shot and killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville in what authorities later classified as a racially motivated killing. The shooter had just previously tried to enter the campus of Edward Waters University, a historically Black institution.
HB 7-C and its Senate companion, SB 6-C, would amend how Florida uses its federal Nonprofit Security Grant — meant to provide funding for physical security to nonprofit organizations against terrorist attacks and also to provide funding for additional security for Jewish schools.
The awarded funds can be used for “security infrastructure, perimeter lighting, materials for door hardening, security camera systems, perimeter fencing, barriers and bollards, and blast-resistant film and shatter-resistant glass for windows,” as well as for hiring security personnel, according to the bill’s text.
The amendment, which passed unanimously, brought the bill’s overall funding up to $45 million – with $25 million earmarked specifically for security grants the Florida Department of Education can bestow to Jewish schools for security.
Rep. Randy Fine, of Brevard County, the bill’s House sponsor, has been outspoken in his beliefs that Florida needs to do more to protect Jewish people and support Israel.
During the meeting, Fine fought back tears while discussing the recent acts of violence and vandalism against Jewish people and communities that prompted the legislation on security grants.
“There are a lot of institutions in the world that unfortunately have elevated threats,” Fine said. “While I appreciate $10 million getting us to $20 million, I don’t think any of us will say that’s enough. This is intended as an emergency in funds to get us through next session.”
The overall legislation passed on Monday at the House Appropriations Committee.
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