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Bill Would Require Kentucky Schools To Have Armed Officers

Fayette County Public Schools

  Off-duty police officers hired to do security at Kentucky public schools would be required to carry guns under a bill sponsored by a top Republican in the state Senate.

The proposal comes a year after the legislature passed a sweeping school safety bill requiring every school in the state to employ a school resource officer. That bill didn’t say that the officers had to be armed.

Campbellsville Republican Sen. Max Wise was the primary architect of the school safety bill and is sponsoring the gun requirement, Senate Bill 8. He says the legislature always intended to have armed officers in public schools.

“A majority of the districts now, the SROs that are out there are armed, but we’re going to make sure this would go above any other school board policy,” said Wise, who is also chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“If that SRO is not armed, then they would be with Senate Bill 8 this session.”

The measure comes as the state’s largest school district, Jefferson County Public Schools, debates whether to have armed security at its schools. The district already plans to directly employ its law enforcement instead of hiring off-duty city police officers.

Wise called Jefferson County an “anomaly” and criticized what he called “indecisiveness” on the part of the local school board.

“It would kind of baffle me, we’re talking about legislation and we’re talking about school safety and there’s nothing more I think would be better prepared as us having SROs,” Wise said.

Last year’s school safety bill came in reaction to a fatal 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School that killed two fifteen year-olds and injured several others.

In addition to requiring school districts to employ school resource officers, it required them to employ one mental health counselor for every 250 students and install intercoms, cameras and automatic locking doors at their main entrances by 2022.

The legislature did not set aside funding for the initiatives, which the Kentucky School Board Association estimates to be $121 million.

Wise said the legislature is still committed to funding the effort, but called the cost projection a “guesstimate.”

“The budget process is going to take form. Wait and see what the governor proposes out there as it relates to school safety and see what the House comes up with and sends to the Senate,” Wise said.

Gov. Andy Beshear will present his budget proposal to the legislature on Jan. 28.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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