Tallahassee Roundup: ‘Never Again’
It was heart-wrenching.
As the Florida House began a special legislative session Monday, Holocaust survivor David Schaecter offered an invocation and told of being an 11-year-old boy watching his mother and two younger sisters get gunned down by Nazis.
“She was holding onto them and then was forced to walk downhill to the big mega-holes in the bottom of that hill,” said Schaecter, 94, a South Florida resident whose family was from Czechoslovakia. “And before they reached the holes, the machine guns shot all of them. And my brother and I watched that.
“I urge you all to stand with me and view the world from my eyes as someone who watched marches and protests in Europe (that) led to gas chambers and mass graves. I’m here to tell you that our world needs a rude awakening. Demonstrations and radical protests progress quickly to hate crimes and violent anti-Semitism.”
Amid the backdrop of the war between Israel and Hamas, lawmakers during the three-day special session sought to demonstrate support for Israel and Jewish residents of Florida.
That included passing resolutions in support of Israel and taking more-tangible steps such as approving money to help boost security at Jewish day schools and preschools. Lawmakers also passed a measure to expand state sanctions against Iran, a key backer of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
The security bill, for example, calls for providing $15 million for such things as installing lighting, security cameras, fencing and shatter-resistant windows at Jewish day schools and preschools. Another $10 million would go to “nonhardening security measures,” such as hiring security workers and training them on threat awareness, emergency procedures and first aid.
“We shouldn’t live in a world where we need these kinds of things,” House sponsor Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, said. “But we do live in a world where, unfortunately, anti-Semitism is rampant.”
But offering a glimpse of fierce debates happening elsewhere in the country and world, House Republicans and Democrats assailed a resolution proposed by Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, that would have called for an “immediate de-escalation and cease-fire” in the war between Israel and Hamas.
In an extraordinary move, dozens of House members turned their backs to Nixon and faced the front of the House chamber as she spoke near the end of the debate. Nixon said she wanted to protect Israeli and Palestinian “babies.”
“Continued attacks will only lead to more suffering and more death,” Nixon said. “We must take immediate steps to help those in danger right now. That means restoring resources and providing humanitarian aid, but we must prevent more casualties so that they’re actually around to get and benefit from that aid.”
But Rep. Hillary Cassel, a Dania Beach Democrat who converted to Judaism, said Hamas wants to “annihilate” Jews. She and other opponents of Nixon’s proposed resolution said a cease fire existed on Oct. 6, the day before the attack, and that Hamas was to blame for the war.
“We are not dealing with rational people,” Cassel said. “We are not dealing with equality and equal sides of this issue. We are dealing with an absolute attempt to massacre an entire group of people, and we are fighting back.”
The House rejected Nixon’s proposal in a 104-2 vote.
When Hurricane Idalia hit on Aug. 30, it tore through parts of rural North Florida where farms and timber operations play a vital role in the economy.
Lawmakers during the special session passed a bill to provide additional aid to the agriculture industry and communities trying to rebound from the storm, which made landfall in Taylor County.
House sponsor Jason Shoaf, a Port St. Joe Republican who represents Taylor County, said the “bill is going to make a huge difference in our fiscally constrained rural counties. They cannot tax their way, they cannot fund-raise their way, there is no way for them to fund anything that comes up in the normal course of business.”
Ernest Fulford, a farmer from Jefferson County who grows cotton, peanuts, soybeans and corn, said insurance doesn’t cover the more than $500,000 in losses his farm suffered from Idalia.
“This will hopefully keep us, and many other farmers like me, in business,” Fulford said.
LIFTING THE CAP
Amid heavy demand for school vouchers for students with disabilities, lawmakers during the special session approved a bill to temporarily lift a cap on participation in a voucher program.
The bill focuses on the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities program, which has been limited to nearly 41,000 children this school year. The bill would eliminate the cap this year and allow the Florida Department of Education and organizations that administer vouchers for the state to determine the maximum number of vouchers that will be available.
After this year, the program would go back to using a formula to determine maximum capacity. That formula involves the overall number of “exceptional student education” students.
Senate sponsor Jay Collins, R-Tampa, pointed to a waiting list of roughly 8,900 students seeking vouchers in the program.
“As a parent of a unique-abilities child, there are a cavalcade of different things that you deal with. And making sure that we provide those opportunities to those parents, to those families, is unequivocally and unquestionably the right thing to do,” Collins said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Florida lawmakers passed measures to show support for Israel and to help bolster security at Jewish day schools and preschools amid a rise in anti-Semitism.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Not a day goes by without me reliving the horrors of my childhood. And I am here to make sure that there is a meaning to this phrase called, ‘Never again.’” — Holocaust survivor David Schaecter speaking to the Florida House.
Other stories you may want to read: