New law requires Ky. SROs to carry guns

The measure changes a 2019 law requiring a school resource officer in every school but did not specify whether or not they could be armed

Jack Brammer and Daniel Desrochers
Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed into law Friday a school safety bill that requires all police officers in Kentucky schools to carry a gun.

He also said at a Capitol news conference that he and top administration officials have met with people concerned about the bill and have vowed to continue listening to those concerns in an effort to develop a training curriculum for officers.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 8, Senate Education Chairman Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said that the signing of the bill is “an incredibly important day for the commonwealth.”

“This new legislation, which goes into effect immediately, is crucial to the General Assembly’s continued efforts to protect Kentucky’s children, teachers and staff by improving the safety of our schools,” Wise said. “I am appreciative of all those who provided the necessary input and support to see this measure come to fruition.”

The top two leaders of the legislature — Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect — said the Democratic governor made the right move in signing the bill into law.

Beshear had three options in dealing with the legislation: sign it into law, let it become law without his signature or veto it.

A veto would only have been “a temporary step” in keeping it from becoming a law because it had strong support in both the Senate and House, said Beshear’s Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown.

The Senate approved it Jan. 27 on a 34-1 vote and the House 78-8 on Feb. 7. Beshear took all of his 10-alloted days to consider the bill lawmakers sent him.

The measure changes a 2019 state law, which called for a trained resource officer in each of the state’s nearly 1,500 public schools. The 2019 law was silent on whether school police needed to carry a gun.

This year’s measure requires each school officer to be armed, with at least one officer in every school campus where there are one or more school buildings instead of in every school.

The Jefferson County school board has been divided about whether officers in Kentucky’s largest school district should carry handguns while on duty. Officers in Lexington schools already carry guns.

“We see an overwhelming majority of constituents want protection in their school districts,” Wise said. “About 83 percent of Jefferson County employees in middle schools and high schools wanted armed school resource officers.”

In the state House, several members of the Black Caucus opposed the bill. Rep. Charles Booker, D-Louisville, expressed concern about a firearm possibly being used on an innocent student and pointed out the racial dynamics of putting armed police in schools.

He warned that some black students could have a complicated relationship with law enforcement.

“I’m asking that you consider children that come from a different walk,” said Booker, who is running this year for U.S. Senate.

The legislation aims to improve school security through more staff, increased focus on the mental health needs of students and more oversight of school safety on the state and local level, but lawmakers have not yet provided any funding for the bill.

After a shooting at Marshall County High School in January 2018 that killed two students, the General Assembly created a bipartisan group to improve school safety. The group traveled Kentucky listening to teachers, students, parents, law enforcement and mental health professionals. What they found led to the legislation.

Beshear noted that he proposed last month in his two-year budget plan $18.2 million to fund the portion of the bill dealing with school security upgrades.

He said it is “a first important step” in fully funding the improvements needed in public schools and making them difficult targets.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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