Kentucky school safety bill clears House panel

lblackford@herald-leader.comFebruary 21, 2013 

State Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, is head of a new legislative subcommittee on school safety issues.

FRANKFORT — Kentucky legislation that emerged in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was passed Thursday by the House Education Committee, with plenty of lamentations about the lack of funding that would allow schools to do more to keep schools safe.

Much of House Bill 354 refines current practices: tighter rules on developing school safety plans and practice drills, better communication with law enforcement, and designing school buildings with security in mind.

The measure also recognizes a need to deal with mental illness. It would require the Kentucky Department of Education to figure out ways to notify schools about students' past offenses, and for the department and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to develop procedures to help school personnel recognize and get help for students with mental health problems.

"We need to do more in the area of mental health," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville.

Henderson said every school should have a staff psychologist, but he recognized that current school funding makes that an impossibility for now.

The bill — which enjoys broad bipartisan support — was approved unanimously. It now goes to the House for its consideration.

The Senate has approved a similar measure, Senate Bill 8, which also would require schools to adopt an emergency plan, conduct emergency drills and send an annual report to the Department of Education.

Henderson led a task force on school safety that was created after the December shootings in Newtown, Conn. He said that to his knowledge, the bill was the first time that mental health issues had been raised in a school safety bill.

His main purpose with the proposal, he said, was to create consistent regulations across the state.

"Believe it or not, there are still schools that don't lock their doors," he said.

Henderson also said that next year, he will push for better funding for school safety, including resource officers in every school.

State funding for school safety has dropped by 60 percent in recent years, Gov. Steve Beshear said in his State of the Commonwealth speech earlier this month. Only 241 Kentucky schools, or 19 percent, have a trained law enforcement officer on staff, according to the Kentucky Center for School Safety.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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