State lawmakers pass bill requiring school children to train for possible mass shootings

Published 10:09 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Lawmakers on Tuesday gave final passage to a bill meant to make Mississippi schools safer from mass shootings, including mandatory twice-yearly active shooter drills and a threat-reporting mechanism to be monitored by the state Department or Public Safety.

The House voted 78-32 to approve changes made by the Senate to House Bill 1283 . The measure was held for the possibility of more debate by representatives unhappy that senators stripped out provisions for mental health education and evaluation, but it’s likely to head to Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature.

A task force convened by Bryant recommended that every school have a school resource officer — typically an armed law enforcement officer. The bill would expand a cost-sharing program to encourage that goal, requiring the state to provide at least $10,000 to every district that qualified.

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The legislation doesn’t include a task force recommendation to train teachers or other school personnel to carry guns and act as “school marshals.”

Senators last week removed provisions requiring schools to implement an evidence-based and age-appropriate mental health curriculum. The Senate also required parental consent for mental health evaluations. Opponents, backed by the Tupelo-based American Family Association, argued the provisions could trample on parents’ rights without changes.

“Maybe a parent wouldn’t be comfortable with their kindergartner or pre-kindergartner being taught about mental illness,” Sen. Angela Hill, a Picayune Republican, said last week.

The highest-dollar recommendation in the bill is to hire a school resource officer for all 1,000-plus schools in the state. The state Department of Education says there are now 410 certified officers statewide.

In December, the state Board of Education approved $10,000 grants for 177 officers, totaling $1.77 million in the program, called Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools. School districts must match the funds, but in reality, Welch said it costs about $50,000 in salary and benefits to hire a school resource officer.

The program was created after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Separately, lawmakers have sent Senate Bill 2141 to Bryant. It makes it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison to make terroristic threats against governments, schools, businesses or a “segment of the civilian population.”

People could be prosecuted even if they didn’t intend or were unable to carry out a bomb threat or other threat. A similar measure that failed last year created concern that juveniles could be prosecuted as adults for bomb threats, but the bill sparked little debate this year.