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Bill Would Create State School Safety Marshal, Expand Role of School Resource Officers

The School Safety and Resiliency Act – the number one priority of the General Assembly’s leadership – passed out of the Kentucky Senate last week without dissent.

The act, known as Senate Bill 1, is a comprehensive measure that focuses on personnel; systems and structures; accountability; and a culture of student connectivity, said sponsor Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville). SB 1 would create a state school safety marshal, similar to the state fire marshal. SB 1 would also establish the framework for schools to expand the use of school resource officers.

“I can’t say this bill will be preventive – that it will stop acts of evil from occurring,” Wise said, adding that a similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. That measure, known as House Bill 1, has been assigned to the lower chamber’s Education Committee.

One provision of SB 1 would require one guidance counselor with mental health training for every 250 students in a school, contingent on funding. And the guidance counselors would be required to spend at least 60 percent of their workday on counseling-related tasks.

A second provision would expand an anonymous school safety tip line statewide, while a fourth would encourage districts to seek charitable donations to pay for security-related expenses.

A fifth provision would specify who could serve on the board for the Center for School Safety and clarify members’ duties. The nationally recognized center was created by the passage of House Bill 330 in 1998. That measure was in response to the Heath High School shooting on Dec. 1, 1997, in West Paducah. Three girls died and five other students were injured.

Wise said SB 1 was the product of testimony, research and study over eight months by the nonpartisan School Safety Working Group and others who were asked to assist. Legislators formed the group in response to the western Kentucky shooting at Marshall County High School last winter in Benton. Earlier in the week, the parents of the two slain students from the shooting gave emotional testimony in support of SB 1 before the Senate Education Committee.

“No one was shut out from providing input,” said Wise, chairman of the education committee. “No one was shut out from my office. No one was shut out from having comments and feedback.”

Wise said SB 1 was just the first step in the legislature’s efforts to improve school safety. He said the second step would be to fund SB 1’s various provisions during next year’s regular session of the General Assembly. That’s when legislators are constitutionally tasked with passing a biennium budget for the state. Wise stressed that the bill tried to avoid unfunded mandates that cash-strapped rural schools may not be able to afford.

Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) said as chairman of the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee he would work to make sure provisions of SB 1 are funded in the next biennium budget.

“We will find a way to make the funding for this to work,” he said.

Sen. Danny Carroll (R-Paducah) recounted his reaction after hearing of the Marshall County High School shooting while he was in Frankfort for legislative duties. The school is in his district.

“I remember the feelings of helplessness and the desire to do something immediately,” he said. “I think we all felt those feelings that day, however, we realized the best thing we could do was to take a step back and to think through the decisions we were making.”

He said that “pause” has resulted in superior legislation.

Sen. Julian M. Carroll (D-Frankfort) voted for SB 1 but said the legislation failed to address one underlying problem: The easy access to unsecured guns.

“We don’t want to deal with what to do about guns in the hands of students,” he said. “That is one small, but absolutely critical issue. I understand why it was not discussed because we do not like to even use the word ‘gun’ in many of our discussions.”

C.B. Embry Jr. (R-Morgantown) commended the bipartisan effort.

“We were working together, and that is great,” said Embry, a co-sponsor of SB 1. “Our children are our most precious and valuable asset that we have in the commonwealth of Kentucky. This bill is a step in the right direction to give them safety.”

SB 1 passed out of the chamber by a 35-0 vote. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for their consideration.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Sen. Chris McDaniel (via LRC)