School safety bill wins final passage in Kentucky
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a school safety bill intended to boost police protection and counseling in response to a shooting more than a year ago that killed two students at a western Kentucky high school.
In a show of bipartisanship on lawmakers’ top priority, the state Senate voted 37-0 to send the bill to Gov. Matt Bevin. A day earlier, the measure cleared the House on a 96-3 vote.
“This is a great example of us working together, both parties, the House and the Senate on a top priority,” Republican Sen. C.B. Embry Jr. said before the bill’s final passage. “What can be more important than the safety of our schoolchildren?”
The bill sets new goals, including seeking police officers in every school and at least one counselor for every 250 students. But it comes with no money, so school districts won’t be able to comply right away. But Republican budget leaders in both chambers have vowed to provide the money next year, despite not knowing how much it might cost or where the money will come from.
“I have full faith and confidence in this chamber and the chamber down the hall that we will make this a top priority as we come back into next session to deal with the funding mechanism,” said Republican Sen. Sen. Max Wise, the bill’s lead sponsor.
Leaders in both GOP-dominated chambers had designated school safety as the priority for this year’s legislative session. Senate President Robert Stivers said Thursday that a statewide assessment is needed to determine the funding needs to carry out the bill’s goals.
“You cannot appropriate to something you don’t know what the price tag is yet and what the need is,” Stivers said.
The legislation is in response to the Jan. 23, 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.
Marshall County schools Superintendent Trent Lovett on Thursday praised the legislature’s work on school safety as a “big step in the right direction.”
Lovett said in a phone interview that he’s confident lawmakers will make school safety a funding priority next year when they craft a new two-year state budget.
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, 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.
The Marshall County school shooting happened just a few weeks before a gunman killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That shooting prompted a public outcry for gun control, with students from the Florida school leading the charge.
The Florida legislature responded by raising the gun-buying age to 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period for purchases. Florida lawmakers also allowed police to ask a judge for permission to seize guns from people deemed to pose a threat to the community.
But in Kentucky, which like Florida is dominated by Republican lawmakers, gun control was never part of the proposal. This legislative session, Kentucky lawmakers are taking steps to loosen gun laws. A House committee this week voted to advance a bill that would let anyone 21 and older carry a concealed gun without a license. That bill has already passed the state Senate.
A bipartisan special committee of Kentucky lawmakers spent nearly a year discussing potential school safety legislation with stakeholders. They settled on the legislation that focuses heavily on training school officials for how to plan for and respond to mass shootings.
The legislation created new positions, including a state school security marshal, and ordered school districts to designate school safety coordinators. And it sets a goal of each school district having at least one counselor for every 250 students by 2021.
The parents of the two slain Kentucky students enthusiastically supported the bill. They recently urged lawmakers to pass it during emotional testimony before a legislative committee. Brian Cope, Preston Cope’s father, said their next step is to press lawmakers for funding next year.
“We will be fighting until I have my last breath,” Cope told reporters at the time.
The legislation is Senate Bill 1.