FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Any police officers assigned to Kentucky schools would have to be armed under a bill introduced Monday as a follow-up to last year's school safety law stemming from a deadly shooting.
The new measure was filed by Senate Education Committee Chairman Max Wise, who called the proposal a priority of the Republican-led chamber.
Last year's school safety law did not specify whether school police officers needed to carry a weapon. The follow-up bill would add the requirement that all school-based officers be armed.
“We're looking at safety and security for our teachers, for our staff and for our students," Wise said in an interview. “We didn't go down the path of arming teachers. But we are going to go down the path" of ensuring that the school officers are armed.
Wise, a key architect of last year's safety law, said a majority of Kentucky districts have armed police officers. He mentioned the state's largest school district — where some school board members want to keep guns out of schools — for spurring the proposed state requirement to arm officers.
In Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, the local school board has been divided over whether to arm officers as it crafts its plans for a district-managed police force, The Courier Journal reported. Under the district's most recent proposal, officers would have handguns in shoulder holsters hidden under a jacket, the Louisville newspaper reported.
Last year's school safety law was in response to the January 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky. Two 15-year-old students, Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, were killed. More than a dozen others were injured.
Under the new measure, at least one officer would be assigned to each school campus.
The new law is intended to boost police protection and counseling but came with no money. Lawmakers put off funding decisions until this year, when they will craft a new state budget. The school security efforts could cost $120 million statewide. Gov. Andy Beshear will present his budget plan to lawmakers late this month.
The safety law also set the goal of having at least one counselor for every 250 students. The new legislation would widen the scope to include more mental health professionals, such as school-based psychologists and social workers, Wise said. Without the broader application, it would be difficult to achieve the ratio of one counselor for every 250 students, he said.
“We want to increase the number of mental health professionals that students can get access to," he said.
The new legislation is Senate Bill 8.