House education panel approves Pop-Tart bill, biometrics ban

March 6, 2014 

— Pop-Tarts could be an earlier winner in this year's legislative session.

The House Education Committee on Thursday gave its support to the so-called pop-tart bill, which would prevent children from being disciplined for playing with simulated weapons in school.

The bill offers special protection for "brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food."

Why do Pop-Tarts get a shout out?

The bill was inspired (at least partly) by a Maryland boy who was suspended from school for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and the sponsor of the bill, said the proposal is needed because many Florida schools have zero-tolerance policies that can be overly punitive.

Baxley is hoping the measure allows teachers and school administrators to use common sense when disciplining children.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer attended the meeting Thursday, but did not testify.

After the vote, she said the bill would let kids be kids.

Hammer said the NRA was not "driving" the issue in the Legislature.

Earlier in the meeting, the committee weighed in on another hot-button issue, approving a bill that would ban Florida school systems from collecting students' biometric information.

HB 195 came in response to parent concerns about the about the new Common Core State Standards. (In Florida, the benchmarks were analyzed, tweaked and renamed the Florida Standards.)

Commissioner Pam Stewart has assured parents that individually identifiable student records and data will be kept safe -- and not sent to the federal government.

But lawmakers are asking for additional protections for biometric data, which includes the characteristics of fingerprints, hands, eyes and the voice.

"We want to make sure as we move forward with technology, we are continuing to keep our children's privacy safe," said Rep. Jake Raburn, the Lithia Republican sponsoring the bill.

The bill would impact the Pinellas County school system, which uses palm scanners to prevent backups in the lunch line.

A district representative said Pinellas would need time to phase out that system if the bill were to become law. Raburn said he planned to work with the school system to allow for some kind of transition.

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