Fla. May Shift Domestic Security Money to Schools
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's anti-terrorism efforts could be undercut by a proposal that would shift millions of dollars intended for domestic security programs and instead use it for efforts to bolster security at schools, according to some officials.
Top emergency management and law-enforcement officials in the last few days have begun raising alarms about a spending proposal being pushed by state Senate leaders. Their concerns have mounted in the wake of last week's deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Bryan Koon, Florida's emergency management chief, said that the plan would take away money intended to help the state's first responder teams and data-mining efforts used to identify potential terrorist threats.
He also questioned the idea of drawing on all the state's current federal grants just to boost security at schools.
"This is not a business where you can put all your eggs in one basket," Koon said.
But Senate leaders are being motivated by another recent tragedy: The massacre of young children and educators last December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said legislators have discretion over spending and right now the Senate's top priority is "on school safety and security."
The Senate proposal is one of many being caught up in ongoing budget negotiations in the last two weeks of the annual session. House leaders so far have refused to go along with the Senate plan to shift $10.3 million in federal domestic security grants over to school security efforts.
Florida has gotten tens of millions from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for domestic security programs since the September 2011 attacks. But the annual amount of federal grants has steadily gotten smaller over the last few years.
Koon said that the bulk of money now received is used to sustain the state's current anti-terrorism efforts. A domestic security group established under state law makes recommendations on how the money should be spent.
A sheet prepared by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Office of Domestic Security shows that without the federal grants, 40 positions would be eliminated, including analysts who provide intelligence to local police departments and sheriff's offices.
The Florida Department of Education has received nearly $17 million since 2008 for security efforts. The state's domestic security oversight council recommended setting aside money for a handful of school-related projects, including equipment that would allow Florida State University to monitor crowds remotely.
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