Kentucky House OKs school safety bill after deadly shooting
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — More than a year after two students were killed in a shooting at a western Kentucky high school, the state legislature approved new goals on Wednesday seeking police officers in every school and at least one counselor for every 250 students.
The legislation 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.
House lawmakers voted 96-3 to approve Senate bill 1 on Wednesday. Republican House Speaker David Osborne leaders in the GOP-controlled Senate will likely agree to the changes in the bill, meaning it could be sent to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk by the end of the week. Bevin has said he supports the bill.
The legislation is in response to the Jan. 23, 2018, shooting at Marshall County High School. Two 15-year-old students, Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, were killed. More than a dozen others were injured.
The 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 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, lawmakers are taking steps to loosen gun laws. Earlier in the day, a House committee voted to advance a bill that would let anyone 21 and older carry a concealed gun without a license — a bill that has already passed the state Senate by a vote of 29-8.
A bipartisan special committee of Kentucky lawmakers spent nearly a year discussing potential school safety legislation with stakeholders. They settled on a 42-page bill 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, by 2021, each school district having at least one counselor for every 250 students.
Asked about gun safety proposals, Kentucky’s GOP House Speaker said “there was just no consensus about what measures might be acceptable.”
“I think they made a commitment early on that they were going to develop a consensus piece of legislation, and they stuck to it,” Osborne said.
The bill ended up passing overwhelmingly in both chambers, with some caveats from Democrats who urged lawmakers to do something to address gun safety. Democratic state Rep. George Brown, who was on the legislative panel that studied the issue, called gun safety “the elephant in the room.”
“I know that’s not popular,” Brown told his colleagues Wednesday when discussing his ‘yes’ vote. “But if we don’t address that, it’s not a matter of if there is going to be another mass shooting or mass death in our community. It’s a matter of when.”
The parents of the two slain Kentucky students enthusiastically supported the bill. Earlier this month they urged lawmakers to pass it during emotional testimony before a legislative committee. Brian Cope, father of Preston Cope, 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 Kentucky legislature passes a spending plan every two years, and normally waits until those years to commit large amounts of money. House budget chairman Steven Rudy, whose district is not far from Marshall County High School, pledged to pay for the bill next year.
“We’re not going to quit,” Rudy said Wednesday. “I am committed to funding this at the level that will be appropriate.”
It’s unclear how much money that will be. Osborne said it will depend on how many counselors are required to fulfill the new rules, and how many are available.
“There is still a lot of unknowns in the actual cost of it,” Osborne said. “But regardless of those unknowns, there is absolutely unanimous commitment to funding it.”
Reporter Bruce Schreiner contributed to this report.