Florida special session will consider bills to bolster security amid a rise in anti-Semitism

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Artwork from the 2nd annual Shine A Light On Antisemitism contest. By: Josh Holton (6/7/23)

By Dara Kam ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Amid a rise in anti-Semitism and the war between Israel and Hamas, Florida lawmakers plan to steer $25 million to Jewish day schools and preschools and another $10 million to nonprofit organizations to help bolster security.

Identical proposals filed Thursday in the House and Senate for a special legislative session that will start Monday would establish $10 million in grants for nonprofits — including houses of worship, schools, museums and community centers — that are “at high risk for violent attacks or hate crimes.”

The $10 million would be distributed by the state Division of Emergency Management through the “Nonprofit Security Grant program,” which mirrors a federal grant program designed to protect communities against extremist attacks. Lawmakers created the state grant program earlier this year but did not fund it.

The proposals (SB 6-C and HB 7C) also would direct $25 million to the state Department of Education for grants to full-time Jewish day schools and Jewish preschools. That would include $20 million for hiring security workers and “training security personnel and staff on threat awareness, emergency procedures and first aid.”

The bills also would set aside $5 million for hardening materials or items, such as shatter-proof windows and security cameras.

“Just filed HB 7C for the special session which will allocate $35 million in emergency funding to protect Florida’s Jewish day schools, synagogues, Holocaust museums, and cultural centers. The Florida Legislature is stepping up to protect Florida’s Jews. Few will ever know the heart of Speaker @Paul_Renner that I have witnessed the past four weeks,” state Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who sponsored the House bill, posted Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Fine, Florida’s only Jewish Republican lawmaker, is an ardent supporter of Israel. He has pushed Gov. Ron DeSantis and lawmakers to step up advocacy for Israel in its fight against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which launched the war Oct. 7 by unleashing a deadly attack in Israel.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, last month issued a proclamation for the special session, saying a focus would be to show support for Israel.

Along with the bills about boosting security at Jewish Day schools and other facilities, lawmakers will consider measures (SB 10-C and HB 5C) to increase state sanctions against Iran, a key backer of Hamas.

“As the war continues to rage into a third week, with each passing day, we learn more about the atrocities Hamas and other terror groups are waging against the Israeli people. While our laws already have strong sanctions against regimes that support terrorism, a conflict of this scale certainly warrants a fresh look at further steps we can take to strengthen existing sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and other state and corporate sponsors of terror. We can, and we must, do everything within our authority as a state government to support Israel and condemn terror, hatred, and violence,” Passidomo said in a memo Thursday to senators.

Passidomo’s memo also pointed to the increased support for Jewish day schools, which have received security grants from lawmakers in the past.

“With incidents of anti-Semitism on the rise, we need to make certain that entities at risk for hate crimes have the security resources and infrastructure they need,” the Senate president said.

Lawmakers during the session also will consider resolutions (SR 8-C and HR 9C) declaring that the House and Senate “condemn the unprovoked and barbaric attacks against Israel, its citizens, and Americans” and “unequivocally support the right of the State of Israel to exist as a sovereign and independent nation.” The proposed resolutions also “demand the immediate end to any financial support, whether direct or indirect, of Hamas, the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, or any other entity that publicly supports these attacks and other terrorist activities.”

The session comes as DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, continues to try to illustrate his support for Israel.

As an example, DeSantis issued an executive order Oct. 12 directing the state Division of Emergency Management to draw money from state coffers to assist with cargo and rescue operations in Israel. DeSantis also has called for increased sanctions against Iran.

DeSantis and other top Republican presidential candidates will debate Wednesday night in Miami, as lawmakers could be wrapping up the special session. Former President Donald Trump, who continues to eclipse DeSantis and other GOP presidential contenders in recent polls, is not expected to attend the debate.

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