Tennessee lawmakers proposed a bill on February 28 they believe will increase security in schools in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 17 dead.
The bill, called the School Safety Act of 2018 (HB 2129), proposes launching a voluntary program that uses off-duty officers as school resource officers at Tennessee public schools. Officers who join the program will be paid using a portion of civil asset forfeiture funds.
“More than ever, our kids are vulnerable to evil people with evil intentions,” said Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Gray). “Now’s the time for us to come together to protect our babies.”
The program would allow public schools up to two extra law enforcement officers, but local agencies wouldn’t have to pay those cops for the off-duty work. Officers who volunteer will be required to carry a gun and will receive $50 per school day from civil asset forfeiture funds.
The bill is meant to act as a temporary measure—it would expire in 2022—and lawmakers expect it will improve security enough to deter school shootings in Tennessee.
“This is an emergency stopgap measure, and there are other issues that we need to face,” said Sen. Mark Green (R-TN) about the bill during a news conference. “This bill doesn’t address that.”
Lawmakers have struggled with how to best solve the nation’s school shooting problem, especially after the national outrage and protests over the Stone Douglas shooting. Students in Tennessee have also joined the protests, many calling for tougher gun laws.
Whether the bill would be enough is debatable. There was an armed school resource officer in Stoneman Douglas when the shooting started, but he failed to stop the gunman. The Tennessee lawmakers admitted that there is no way to know whether extra resource officers in schools will act when the time calls.
The bill has the support of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and has reportedly received positive feedback from school superintendents.
“The best school security is with law enforcement officers,” TEA spokesman Jim Wyre said. “Accessing the capacity of off-duty officers and providing resources for them may be the solution for counties that struggle with funding enough officers to protect students and teachers.”
The School Safety Act of 2018 was unveiled on the same day a controversial bill proposing to arm teachers passed its first hurdle in the state legislature.
Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) proposed a measure that would allow a select number of teachers to carry concealed firearms on school property. Parents, teachers, and gun control activists have spoken in opposition of the bill, questioning the prudence of arming educators instead of funding school resource officers.
The School Safety Act of 2018 appears to be receiving a warmer reception, but it’s unclear what the proposal would cost the state and whether civil asset forfeiture funds would be enough to pay for a statewide school resource officer program.
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