Michigan House passes post-Parkland school safety bills

Posted at 8:48 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-08 20:48:58-04

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s House passed its first school safety initiative since the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting on Tuesday, advancing the state’s most sweeping campus security protocols yet.

A bipartisan five-bill package to create a school safety commission under the Michigan State Police cleared the chamber, three weeks after its introduction in April. The proposed commission would pioneer statewide safety standards for school buildings, grade them based on new metrics and provide funds for campuses that need upgrades. In addition, the legislative bundle requires law enforcement officers undergo active violence response training and mandates schools file annual reports on violence threats to state police.

“It’s important that when kids go to school, we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jason Wentworth, a Clare Republican. “This truly is a nonpartisan issue that should get full support.”

Some Democrats voted against the legislation because they saw any school safety initiative without gun control as inadequate.

“If sensible gun laws aren’t part of the equation, I don’t want to give people a false sense of security,” said Rep. Robert Wittenberg, an Oak Park Democrat who voted no on most of the package.

The five bills passed the GOP-controlled House almost three months after the U.S.’s deadliest school shooting in five years claimed 17 lives inside a Florida high school. Lawmakers initially discussed a smattering of gun ideas that ranged from arming teachers to legalizing temporary firearm confiscations, also known as “red flag” laws. But school safety has been a significant concern recently. During the first month after Parkland, the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network ranked Michigan third in the U.S. for volume of school threats and violent incidents.

The Senate is next to weigh in on the bills, which coincide with ongoing budget negotiations in both chambers to determine how much funding the tentative school safety commission would receive. In late April, the House voted to earmark $25 million for school safety in next year’s budget. The Senate version from last week doesn’t directly address the subject, but a supplemental appropriations bill doles out an extra $18.6 million for school security for the current fiscal year.

A bill by Rep. Brandt Iden to make the attorney general’s OK2SAY confidential tip line permanent also passed the House on Tuesday. Students have been using the service to make confidential tips to the state through phone, text message, email or a website. Record numbers of reports began pouring in after Parkland, the most recent being 601 tips made this April.

“OK2SAY has saved lives and prevented violence,” said Iden, a Republican from Oshtemo Township. “The program works – we already know that. It’s time to make this program permanent.”

Gov. Rick Snyder’s own school safety proposal from last month asks for $20 million. He jumpstarted his agenda via an executive order in April that created a temporary school safety task force to direct funding for upgrades for up to 400 schools’ security features, the OK2SAY program and behavioral health assessment training.

Senate Democrats countered with a $100 million school safety package and renewed calls for gun reform, to no avail so far.