Panel advances bill requiring armed officers at schools

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill to require police officers assigned to Kentucky schools to be armed won unanimous approval Thursday from the Senate Education Committee.

The committee action, advancing the measure to the full Senate, came on the second anniversary of the shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky. Two 15-year-old students, Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, were killed and more than a dozen others were injured. The committee meeting began with a moment of silence in honor of the students.

The bill is a follow-up to last year's sweeping school safety law, which did not specify whether school police officers needed to carry a weapon. The new bill would add the requirement that all school-based officers — known as school resource officers — be armed.

“Government has the responsibility of public safety," said Republican Sen. Max Wise, the bill's lead sponsor. “And I think it is only common sense that we take this approach."

Wise has mentioned the state's largest school district for spurring the proposed state requirement to arm officers. In Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, the local school board has been divided over whether to arm officers while crafting plans for a district-managed police force.

Under the new measure, at least one officer would be assigned to each school campus. The new bill would allow local districts to decide on uniforms and whether the officers will have arrest powers, Wise said.

In defending the proposed mandate to arm the officers, he said: “We're not arming teachers. We're not going down that path. But if we're putting sworn law enforcement officers (in schools), they will have a gun. And I think the expectations of parents is that that officer will be equipped with a firearm."

The safety law enacted last year is intended to boost police protection and counseling and increase physical security of school campuses but came with no money. Lawmakers put off funding decisions until considering a new state budget this year.

Wise, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, on Thursday didn't offer a price tag to implement the safety law. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will present his budget plan to lawmakers next week, and the GOP-led legislature will then craft its spending plan for the next two years.

“You can guarantee that both of these chambers (House and Senate) will step up to the plate when it comes to school safety," Wise told reporters.

The safety law also set the goal of having at least one counselor for every 250 students. The new legislation would widen the scope to include more mental health professionals, such as school-based psychologists and social workers, Wise said.

Without the broader application, it would be difficult to achieve the ratio of one counselor for every 250 students, he said when introducing the bill earlier this month.

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The legislation is Senate Bill 8.


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