Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
As the 2019 legislative session draws to a close, budget negotiations are on lawmakers' minds this week. But funding for a permanent memorial in honor of the 49 lives lost in the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre has yet to be secured.
In the Florida Senate budget, $245,000 was originally set aside for the memorial. But on Wednesday following a conference committee, that same number had dwindled to $0.
It's a head-scratcher, considering that $1 million in funding was included in last year's legislative package for a memorial at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after a gunman killed 17 students and teachers at the school in 2018.
At the time, Orlando state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith proposed an amendment to the legislation that would have included $1 million for a Pulse memorial. The proposal didn't pass. However, Smith says he's gone back to the same drawing board during the current session. This year, he and Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, filed a bill
proposing $2 million in state funds for a Pulse memorial and museum, but the measure hasn't made it out of committee.
"There's support for the project and I'm confident that we can get it done," Smith tells Orlando Weekly
. "The fact that it showed up as a line item [in the budget] to begin with is already an indication that there's bipartisan support for the effort. They are listening."
Smith adds: "All we're looking for is parity and equality in funding. Nothing more, nothing less."
The site of the former nightclub serves as an interim memorial at the moment. Pulse owner Barbara Poma and her nonprofit, the onePULSE Foundation, are hosting an international design competition for the permanent memorial.
Smith says acquiring state funding for such a project has precedent. He points to the memorial erected following the bombing in Oklahoma City and the 9/11 memorial in New York City.
"If we don't get a million dollars this year, we'll come back and we will get it," Smith says. "I don't care how long it takes. We're getting something."
Orlando state Sen. Linda Stewart, who sponsored the initial budget request in the Senate, concurs.
"I have been diligently working to secure funding for a permanent memorial to the victims and families of this community," Stewart tells Orlando Weekly
. "As long as I am the senator of this district, I will continue to fight for the reverence of those affected by the horrific tragedy that occurred on June 12, 2016, at the Pulse Nightclub."
Stewart adds: "With less than two weeks in the 2019 legislative session remaining, I remain steadfast in my commitment to bring this memorial to our community to honor those lives lost."
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