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Kentucky lawmakers unveil school-safety measure

January 9, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A statewide school-safety measure touted as the Kentucky legislature’s top priority this year was unveiled on Wednesday, nearly a year after two students were killed in a shooting at a rural high school in the state.

The legislation calls for hiring a state school security marshal to bolster oversight of school-safety efforts by local school districts. The measure also sets a state goal of putting more school resource officers and mental health professionals in schools as deterrents to school violence, but only as soon as funding becomes available. But the measure’s backers said it would create a framework as an important first step to bolster safety in Kentucky’s schools.

“For this generation of students right now in the school systems, it’s becoming their 9/11,” Sen. Max Wise said of school shootings. “I think as a commonwealth, we have to step up to the plate and say we’re going to focus on this issue.”

The Republican lawmaker helped lead a working group that helped shape the legislation. In a sign of the bill’s significance, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne attended a Capitol press conference where the measure was formally unveiled.

The bill’s high-profile rollout, on the second day of this year’s legislative session, comes nearly a year after two students were killed and many more were injured in a shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky. About three weeks later, a shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school left 17 students and staff dead.

Since the shooting in Marshall County, the school district has installed eight metal detectors at the high school plus two each for the districts’ two middle schools, Marshall County schools Superintendent Trent Lovett said. The district hired four additional school resource officers and two mental health counselors. They also banned backpacks at the high school and middle schools.

Schools across the state have taken similar security precautions. In Lexington, 15-year-old Lily Gardner said students are preparing for metal detectors and bag checks at the entrances to begin next month.

“Metal detectors are not going to make me feel more secure,” she said, saying she prefers more access to mental health resources and counselors. “Ultimately, school safety stems from the combined efforts of a school and its community. And I will not be satisfied with superficial measures that don’t address the entire problem.”

The bill introduced Wednesday would establish a “goal” of providing more school resource officers and mental health counselors at schools across the state, but it does not pay for them. Any extra funding would likely have to be part of the new state budget next year.

“Basically, you are providing a framework and you’re telling us what we already know we need,” Lovett said in a phone interview Wednesday. “How do we fund that?”

Recently, Lovett said a Marshall County student dropped a metal thermos on the concrete sidewalk. The noise got everyone’s attention, silencing the morning rush.

“It’s still there. Memories are still there, thoughts are still there,” Lovett said. “It will never be back to completely normal.”

Creating the role of state school security marshal is seen as an important oversight role, lawmakers said.

The marshal would function similarly as the state’s fire marshal and present an annual report about findings and recommendations, Wise said. Sanctions would be established for schools that fail to comply with submitting safety risk assessments or for correcting safety deficiencies

“It’s not an attempt to say ‘gotch-you.’ But there has to be some accountability,” said House Majority Floor Leader John “Bam” Carney, another key supporter of the bill.

As for arming teachers, an idea advocated last year by President Donald Trump, the working group heard discussions about it but “there was no strong appetite,” Wise said.

Supporters said the bill does not impose mandates on school districts that can’t afford them.

Afterward, Democratic Rep. George Brown Jr. said he was disappointed that the bill had no gun control elements.

“This is a first step,” the Lexington lawmaker said. “The gun control issue is so contentious, we probably couldn’t get anything in terms of this bill in the first step. I understand that. But I’m not totally satisfied that this is where we are. I think we have to do some other things in terms of gun control.”

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The legislation is Senate Bill 1.

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