FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – The highly anticipated school safety bill filed Wednesday is “a starting point” for lawmakers as they consider ways to boost security in classrooms across Kentucky, the measure’s sponsor said.
Sen. Max Wise, a Campbellsville Republican and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he expects some legislators will say Senate Bill 1 goes too far in addressing security concerns in response to last year’s fatal shooting at Marshall County High School while others will say the bill doesn’t go far enough.
Wise, SB 1’s sponsor, said the bill may be altered as it moves through the General Assembly.
“Everything’s a process,” he said during a news conference after the Senate adjourned Wednesday. “With that process I’ve been open, I think as well as all these members around here, to listening. We know it’s a starting point. Any time we put a bill out there, there’s going to be things in a bill that’s going to be very difficult to get 138 people to agree upon when it first comes out.”
Wise and House Majority Floor Leader Bam Carney, who co-chaired the School Safety Working Group that examined security issues at school districts following last year’s legislative session, said SB 1 is the top legislative issue for their respective chambers.
“I can assure that we’ll send it right on through and have it on the governor’s desk,” said Carney, R-Campbellsville.
SB 1 touches a number of areas in hopes of providing safer learning environments for kids, primarily through a mix of strengthening security measures at schools and providing more resources for troubled youth.
The bill would, among other things, set a goal of adding more school resource officers and mental health professionals in schools throughout Kentucky; require active shooter training for certain school employees; require that districts appoint a school safety coordinator; mandate that access points to school buildings be secured by July 1, 2022; specifically criminalize making false threats against schools; require middle and high school administrators to provide suicide prevention materials to all students; require school boards to adopt trauma-informed approaches in schools to improve their internal climates; and create a new state school security marshal position, which will be attached to the Department of Criminal Justice Training, according to a summary of the bill provided by Wise.
The state marshal would be tasked with ensuring schools are compliant with safety requirements, with sanctions possible for those who do not submit risk assessments or correct deficiencies.
“There has to be some accountability,” Carney said. “… If you go through every school in Kentucky today, I’d say you’d find at least a classroom door that wasn’t locked.”
SB 1 does not include provisions that would allow teachers to carry firearms on school grounds or reform any of Kentucky’s gun laws.
A Florida commission formed in the aftermath of the fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., recently recommended arming some teachers, but Wise said there was “no strong appetite” from educators in response to a survey distributed by the Kentucky work group.
Likewise, lawmakers did not consider any possible gun restrictions as part of SB 1.
“We did not get into any type of gun control legislation in this bill,” Wise said. “I know that other members have filed bills, and it’s their prerogative to file bills if they already have or if they wish to do so, but we’re focused on Senate Bill 1 with what we have as the bill is written.”
Rep. George Brown, D-Lexington, has filed two such bills in the House. One would require gun owners to lock up their firearms when not in use and the other would make sweeping changes to the state’s gun laws, such as barring the sale of bump stocks, requiring background checks for private gun sales and mandating the registration of assault weapons.
Brown, a member of the School Safety Working Group, said he understands that gun reforms are non-starters in Kentucky’s General Assembly and legislatures throughout the country.
“There’s a hesitancy to deal with gun control across this state and across the nation,” Brown said. “What we have with the (National Rifle Association) and people’s Second Amendment concerns, that plays a role.”
Funding for school safety measures in SB 1 will be a consideration next year as lawmakers draft the next biennial budget. Wise said he’s requested a fiscal note on SB 1 specifically to see how much it would cost to hire a state school security marshal.
“We’ve got the framework here,” he said. “Everything’s going to be contingent upon funding, but we wanted just to have the shell of the bill in place to go ahead and start looking at some of these issues as we can right now during this 30-day session.”
Wise said lawmakers will start work on SB 1 when the General Assembly returns to Frankfort Feb. 5 after a three-week break.
Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.
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