Alabama House advances bills on school security

March 2, 2018

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama House committee advanced bills on Thursday to reinstate a school security task force, restrict weapons on campus and report students under juvenile probation to superintendents — all part of an ongoing effort to boost school safety after a shooting massacre at a Florida high school.

Other bills proposed by Republicans would arm either teachers or volunteer security forces in schools. Legislation by Democrats would limit or ban the sale of assault weapons.

Rep. Allen Farley, a Republican and former law enforcement officer, proposed a bill that would allow juvenile probation officers to tell superintendents if they are handling a case with a student. It also lets law enforcement charge students who carry weapons on campus even if they can’t prove intent to harm using those weapons. Farley said three incidents were brought to his attention in Jefferson County before the Florida shooting where school resource officers confiscated guns, including an AR-15, but couldn’t charge students without proving intent.

The bill sparked debate between committee members. Rep. Isaac Whorton, a Republican, expressed worry over spreading information about teenagers who are not yet convicted of crimes.

“We have to protect not only victims of juvenile crimes, but juveniles themselves too. Sometimes they’re innocent,” Wharton said. “If we’re going to broaden the number of people that this info is disseminated to, we’re opening up a Pandora’s Box.”

Rep. Kerry Rich, a Republican, pushed back.

“There are going to be some errors made,” Rich said. “If you’re going to run the risk of errors, what side are you going to be on? You run risk on the side of protecting students or on the side of a person accused of something they really didn’t do.”

The bill excludes sharing mental health and medical records, but Rich said he thought those should be included.

Like legislators across the country, Alabama lawmakers have scrambled to address school safety after the shooting that killed 17 in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. President Donald Trump initially urged schools to arm teachers. On Wednesday, he also endorsed raising the age to buy assault weapons and expand background checks.

In Alabama, bills have been proposed to arm volunteer security forces or teachers in schools. Top leadership, including Gov. Kay Ivey and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, cautioned against putting guns in classrooms.

But Rep. Barry Moore, who is also a member of the education policy committee, endorsed arming teachers as in line with Second Amendment rights.

“It’s a constitutional right on the books for 200 years,” Moore said. “We don’t need to be infringing on those rights. There’s some ways we can fix things. I think we need to consider arming our teachers in classrooms, allowing them to protect their students.”

Rep. Terri Collins, a Republican, proposed a bill to reinstate a 2016 school security task force, except this year adding representatives from the offices of the governor, the House speaker and the Senate Pro Tempore. The bill also passed out of committee Thursday.

McCutcheon said legislators who proposed school safety or gun controls bills would meet informally next week to discuss their intent. The bills will be voted on in the House.

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