FRANKFORT—School safety improvements in Senate Bill 1—the top legislative priority of 2019 Kentucky General Assembly leaders—moved a step closer to becoming law after being amended and passed by the Kentucky House.
The House voted 96-3 to pass the School Safety and Resiliency Act, or SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, and approved by a 35-0 vote in the Senate on Feb. 8. Similar legislation was introduced this session as House Bill 1, filed by House Majority Floor Leader John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, and Rep. Chris Freeland, R-Benton.
Carney, who presented SB 1 for a vote in the House, said educators, law enforcement, students, parents and others had input into the legislation.
“It’s been a very comprehensive process, and it will be a continuing process for years to come,” said Carney. “But I think this is a great step forward for the Commonwealth of Kentucky if we’re able to move this piece of legislation forward.”
The legislation—the result of months of work by a legislative School Safety Working Group formed after the 2018 shooting deaths of two students at Marshall County High School—would boost school safety by improving the type of personnel, systems and structures and student culture in Kentucky’s schools. Included among the improvements would be creation of the position of state school safety marshal, whose role would be similar to that of a state fire marshal.
Expansion of the use of school resource officers, or SROs, would also be part of the bill, as would enhanced mental health services and a statewide school safety tip line, among other provisions.
Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson, voted in support of the bill. A professor at Hazard Community and Technical College, Howard said he was at work one day in 2013 when three people were fatally shot outside his office window. He said better mental health resources are needed to deal with violent school incidents.
“We must have access to mental health care if we expect to deal with violence in schools,” said Howard.
Also speaking in support of the legislation was House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect. Osborne said the working group created last year “put together something that we can be proud of. And they deserve the appreciation of this body, and they deserve the appreciation of the entire Commonwealth.”
SB 1 does not include funding for its provisions. The funding is expected to be approved during the General Assembly’s 2020 budget session next winter, according to Wise, who told the Senate that SB 1 is not intended to burden financially-strapped schools.
SB 1 now returns to the Senate to see if its members agree with the House changes to the measure.