TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Senate began a floor debate Wednesday to consider if it will oust a county sheriff who Gov. Ron DeSantis accused of bungling the handling of last year's Parkland shooting that killed 17 people.
The chamber was meeting in a politically charged special session convened specifically to weigh the fate of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who DeSantis suspended just days after the Republican governor took office in January.
The special session was called after a Senate-appointed investigator recommended that Israel be reinstated.
But two days ago, the Senate Rules Committee voted along mostly partisan lines to set aside the findings of Senate special master Dudley Goodlette , who asserted that the evidence presented in his investigation did not warrant Israel's suspension.
During his bid for governor, DeSantis partly campaigned on removing Israel from his post in Broward County, a Democratic stronghold. Days after taking office, DeSantis removed the lawman after deeming him incompetent in his department's response to the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting that left 15 students and two staffers dead.
With the tragedy framing the debate and emotions sometimes fraying, alliances transcended party allegiances, with some Democrats signaling their support for removing Israel.
Israel's supporters, including a key Republican, said his removal would have emboldened DeSantis and future governors in removing other elected officials for political reasons.
Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican and former president of the Florida Senate, made an impassioned plea to reinstate Israel.
"When we go home and jump into a selfie with our sheriff - because I know how good that looks on our campaign pieces - make sure he knows what we did today," said Lee, who called the proceedings "anti-law enforcement."
In his report, Goodlette said there was no evidence presented to suggest Israel's policies or his training of deputies were inconsistent with Florida standards, and attributed deaths in the shooting to "individual failures," especially on the part of the school resource officer on duty who had failed to enter a school building and confront the shooter.
But others said they agreed with the governor's suspension of Israel to hold him accountable for any systemic failures that contributed to the carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
DeSantis was also critical of Israel's handling of the 2017 shooting that killed five people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.