Governor puts campus safety under microscope


Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist signed an order Monday creating a task force to examine campus safety issues raised by the Virginia Tech shootings, including whether state background checks for gun registration should be expanded to include mental health information.

Crist signed the order as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt stood beside him. President Bush has dispatched Leavitt and other Cabinet members to gather information on improving campus safety in reaction to the Virginia Tech massacre.

A student with a history of mental problems killed 32 people and wounded 25 before taking his own life at the Blacksburg, Va., campus on April 16.

Virginia did not have a mental health background check requirement until Monday, when Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed an executive order requiring that anyone with court-ordered mental health treatment in their past be added to a state police database of people barred from buying guns.

It would have included the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, if the requirement had been in place a year ago, when he bought two guns used in the shootings.

Crist, though, said he was not ready - at least not yet - to take similar action.

"This gets into the area of privacy,'' Crist said. "Much like the secretary wants to listen to ideas from around the country I want to listen to ideas from Florida before we act. That's what I think we need to do before we lurch forward and maybe do something that would be ahead of the game.''

Leavitt said the Bush administration is reserving judgment until completing talks with state officials, but that some topics are obvious.

Those include balancing privacy and intellectual freedom against safety, encouraging people who need mental health treatment to seek it and finding ways to provide mental help.

"There's nothing new about these, but an incident like Virginia Tech can focus us in a way that will allow us to perhaps see it a different way and to act,'' Leavitt said.

Crist said his nine-member task force will deal with the same issues and its findings will be forwarded to federal authorities.

The Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 state universities, had asked for an extra $3.5 million to strengthen security after the Virginia Tech shootings.

The money, though, was not included in the state budget that emerged Monday from negotiations between the House and Senate.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, who chaired a joint budget conference committee on higher education, said lawmakers found many of the schools already had very good security systems.

"Before we put money into it, we need to know a little bit more about what's in place,'' said Lynn, an Ormond Beach Republican.

Lawmakers cannot change the annual budget bill (SB 2800) that both chambers will vote on later this week.

Department of Children and Families Secretary Bob Butterworth will chair the task force. Other members will include Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Jerry Bailey, State University System Chancellor Mark Rosenberg and a student.

The governor recalled that balancing privacy and campus safety also had been an issue when he was a student at Florida State University, where serial killer Ted Bundy claimed two of his victims as they slept in a sorority house in 1978.

Bundy subsequently was arrested in Pensacola and executed in Florida's electric chair.

"It's a learning time for young people, but nothing's more important than making sure they are safe,'' Crist said.

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