Arizona governor working with lawmakers on school safety
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is working with legislative leaders on a wide-ranging and hopefully bipartisan proposal to boost school safety after the shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead.
The emerging policy is still being crafted but is expected to address mental health, loopholes that allow dangerous people access to guns and other issues.
A proposal could be rolled out in the coming weeks even though the 2018 legislative session is near the midway point.
The Republican governor held two days of meetings that included separate talks with prosecutors, school superintendents, students, parents, law enforcement officials, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and others.
He also met with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders.
“He wanted to hear specific solutions and recommendations about school safety,” Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said Friday.
Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said her meeting with the governor and county attorneys from Maricopa and Yavapai counties was “pretty much a listening session” for Ducey.
She said the prosecutors brought up a proposal that would let them seek a court order removing guns from people who make threats of violence but don’t qualify for arrest or forced mental health hospitalization.
They also discussed a backlog of convictions that need to be entered into a state database of people barred from possessing guns that is shared with the federal government during firearms purchase background checks. The database is only about 70 percent complete.
“It would only cost about $40,000 per county to be able get us up to the 92 to 95 percent compliance rate, which would be phenomenal,” LaWall said. “And the governor really liked that and said it was very, very doable under the state budget.”
LaWall said she also plans to ask the governor to consider a system to remove firearms from people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.
“They’re not supposed to have any firearms, but we don’t have a law on how to remove them from their possession,” she said.
Rep. Randy Friese said Democrats who met with Ducey pushed for universal background checks for gun purchases. Current Arizona law doesn’t require those at gun shows or other person-to-person sales.
“I very particularly said to him ‘you can’t just close the gun show loophole.’ We still are missing the ones happening in someone’s home, garage, parking lot at McDonald’s — all those things have to be covered,” Friese said.
Majority Republicans usually balk at gun control legislation, but Sen. John Kavanagh said he might be open to background checks if concealed weapons permit holders could be allowed to carry in public buildings. That’s a non-starter for Democrats.
Democrats also pushed for a boost in spending for school counselors who can help spot issues with students before they grow into a violent outburst. Arizona’s ratio of counselors to students in about three times the national goal of one for every 250 students.
“Very pointedly our caucus said to him if you’re going to spend money on this you need to spend money on counselors first,” Friese said. “Don’t spend it on arming teachers, don’t spend it on school resource officers.”
Beth Simek, state PTA president, noted that millions of dollars in funding for school counselors was cut after the Great Recession.
Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said the governor expressed a strong desire “to tackle the issue.”
“The question will be, is it something that is universally wanted or is it something that is a little more controversial or it is some of each,” Mesnard said.
Ducey has been asked about school safety several times by reporters in recent weeks and hasn’t provided specific proposals.
“I am going to focus on background checks and school resource officers.” he said. “I want to keep these weapons out of the hands of people that want to cause harm to others, that are on the offense with these things. And I want to be protective of the 2nd Amendment along the way.”