Bill arming SROs clears Ky. Senate

The measure stems from the 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School where two students were killed


Bruce Schreiner
Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — In a follow-up to last year’s school safety law, the Kentucky Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation Monday to require that police officers be armed when assigned to schools.

The measure stems from the 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky. Two students, Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, were killed and more than a dozen others were injured.

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville discusses the implementation of School Safety and Resiliency Act of 2019. (Photo/TNS)
Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville discusses the implementation of School Safety and Resiliency Act of 2019. (Photo/TNS)

Senators voted 34-1 Monday to send the bill to the House.

Last year’s sweeping school safety initiative did not specify whether school police officers needed to carry a weapon. The new legislation would add the requirement that all school-based officers — known as school resource officers — be armed.

Republican Sen. Max Wise, the bill’s lead sponsor, said Monday that students deserve the same type of protection given lawmakers at the state Capitol.

“If we are protected by those who are sworn law enforcement officers with a firearm, would we not want the same for our children in Kentucky public schools?” Wise said.

Wise called it “troubling” that lawmakers have to deal with school safety, saying it reflects “the day and time in which we live.”

Republican Sen. Danny Carroll, whose district includes Marshall County, called it “unthinkable” to expect officers to respond to a school shooting without giving them “every tool they need to protect the kids, to do their job.”

Wise has said the requirement to arm officers was spurred in part by the state’s largest school district. In Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, the local school board has been divided over whether to arm officers while crafting plans for a district-managed police force.

Before passing the measure, the Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. Gerald Neal, a Louisville Democrat, that would have stripped the bill of the requirement that officers be armed. Instead, his amendment proposed leaving the decision up to local school districts.

Another Louisville Democrat, Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, later voted against the measure. McGarvey referred to schoolchildren as a “precious resource” and stressed the importance of school safety, but he objected to mandating the arming of officers.

“I thought this used to be a body that favored local control,” he said.

Under the new measure, at least one officer would be assigned to each school campus. The bill would allow local districts to decide on uniforms and whether the officers will have arrest powers.

Last year’s safety law also set the goal of having at least one counselor for every 250 students. The new legislation would widen the scope to include more mental health professionals, such as school-based psychologists and social workers.

That law — intended to boost police protection and counseling and increase physical security of school campuses — came with no money. Lawmakers put off funding decisions until considering a new state budget later this year.

Associated Press
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