Politics & Government

Ky. Senate approves school-safety bill; similar measure proposed in House

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

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Senate approved a bill Tuesday designed to improve school safety, hours after a House member unveiled a similar bill he said was "a common-sense approach" and "cost-effective."

Both bills are built on recommendations garnered in recent weeks by the House Special Subcommittee on School Safety Issues, led by Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Mount Sterling.

The proposals do not call for new spending, although state funding for school safety has dropped by 60 percent in recent years, Gov. Steve Beshear said in his State of the Commonwealth speech last week. Only 241 Kentucky schools, or 19 percent, have a trained law enforcement officer on staff, according to Jon Akers, director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety.

Henderson's measure, House Bill 354, would require all schools to adopt a comprehensive emergency plan and carry out drills regularly. The plan would cover lock-down situations, fires and tornadoes. The plans would be shared with the state Department of Education, police, fire departments and medical personnel.

Local review boards also would study new or renovated school designs to determine whether other safety measures could be added. Henderson's bill also would encourage local police chiefs and sheriffs to receive more school and student safety training.

Parents or legal guardians would have to make school officials aware if a child has a mental or emotional condition that might be a safety concern.

"We have learned that there is a lot of room for growth in this area, especially in light of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy in December," Henderson said.

Henderson said he is interested in providing safety resource officers to schools, but such a proposal would cost money, and this year's legislative session is not considering the state budget.

Shortly after Henderson's news conference, the Senate approved its own school-safety bill on a 37-0 vote.

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, also would require schools to adopt an emergency plan, conduct emergency drills and send an annual report to the Department of Education. The bill was amended to make sure the plans are not posted online.