MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker waded into the fierce debate over school shootings on Thursday, proposing legislation that would commit $100 million for building-security improvements and similar work but not impose any new gun restrictions or require teachers to arm themselves.
Pressure has been mounting on politicians to improve school safety and strengthen gun-control measures since 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at a high school in Florida last month. Students around the country walked out of class on Wednesday morning to demand tighter gun restrictions.
About 3,000 students converged on the state Capitol in Madison, jamming the corridors outside Walker’s office. Walker wasn’t around during the protest — his office announced late Tuesday afternoon that he’d be in far northern Wisconsin on Wednesday for a bill signing. The governor, who is up for re-election this year, had been working on his school-safety proposals with Republican lawmakers for days but chose to wait until early Thursday to announce them.
He called on the Legislature to take up the bills in a special session, likening the proposals to airport-security changes made following the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.
“No child, parent, or teacher should ever have to feel unsafe in school,” Walker said in a news release announcing the legislation.
Even though Walker worked with Senate Republicans on the bills, the legislation doesn’t appear to have enough support to clear the chamber. Democrats pounced on the bills regardless, criticizing Walker for doing nothing to bolster gun control. The National Rifle Association contributed $3.5 million to Walker’s campaign to help with his 2010 election, a 2012 recall and his 2014 re-election, according to the government watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
“It’s disappointing to see Gov. Walker continue to ignore the pleas from Wisconsin students who want safe schools,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement. “For a plan that is supposed to be about gun safety, I don’t see anything in here that will keep deadly firearms out of the wrong hands.”
The legislation calls for the establishment of a four-person Office of School Safety within the state Department of Justice. The office would work with police and schools to develop best practices for school safety and provide training and other resources to schools. Any training the office provides would have to make use of trauma-informed care principles, which call for recognizing that people have gone through different traumas in their lives.
The office also would administer the $100 million in new grants that schools could use to pay for building-security improvements, training and campus police officers. The grant money could come out of general-purpose tax revenue.
The bills also would require all mandatory child-abuse reporters to report any threats of school violence. Mandatory abuse reporters include doctors, mental-health-care professionals, teachers and guidance counselors.
Parents or guardians would have to be notified within 48 hours of bullying incidents; current state law requires such notification but lays out no time frame. School-safety plans would have to include emergency prevention and security plans for after-school activities.
Schools would be permitted to share live surveillance streams with police without violating laws meant to protect student privacy.
The governor also issued an executive order on Thursday calling on the state Department of Administration to consult schools and police on security improvements and draw up new contracts enabling schools to procure safety equipment and services.
Walker developed the legislation in consultation with Republican leaders in both the Assembly and Senate. The Assembly finished its regular two-year session last month but Speaker Robin Vos said members would return to Madison to take up the school legislation in a one-day special session sometime next week.
The Senate is expected to deal with school safety on March 20, the last day of the chamber’s regular two-year session. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement the Senate will consider a plan that “closely aligns” with Walker’s proposals without entering into special session. His spokesman didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking details of the Senate Republicans’ plan.