This week at the state capitol

Published 4:26 am Saturday, February 9, 2019

FRANKFORT — Family members of the two students killed in last year’s shooting at Marshall County High School held hands, shed tears, and spoke bravely about their grief during this week’s Senate Education meeting.

They came to Frankfort on Thursday to call for safety improvements in Kentucky schools and to deliver a simple message directly to state lawmakers: “We’re counting on you.”

“We can’t protect (children) from the world,” said Brian Cope, whose 15-year-old son, Preston, was killed in the school shooting along with 15-year-old Bailey Holt. “But for eight hours a day, we should be able to let our children go to school and learn and not be looking over their shoulders and worrying ‘Is something going to happen? Is someone going to shoot me? Stab me?’”

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“…If we can protect government buildings, our airports, our sports stadiums, why are we not protecting our kids?” Cope asked. “They are more important than anything.”

Lawmakers were receptive to the message. For part of last year, a specially-formed committee travelled the state to discuss school safety and collect feedback. Their efforts resulted in omnibus school safety proposals filed last month in both the House and Senate. On Thursday, the Senate proposal, known as Senate Bill 1, was passed by the Senate Education Committee and forwarded to the full chamber, where it was approved the next day.

The bill now goes to the House, which itself has introduced a school safety measure, known as House Bill 1. Giving both the Senate and House legislation the “Bill 1” designations are clear indications that the matter is a top priority of legislative leaders.

In sum, both the Senate and House bills call for improving student safety on a variety of fronts. The bills propose establishing a state school safety marshal, conducting risk assessments, boosting safety and prevention training, requiring superintendents to appoint a school safety coordinator, promoting the assignment of a school resource officer to each school, increasing awareness of suicide prevention efforts, encouraging collaboration with law enforcement, and, as funds become available, hiring more counselors in school districts. The proposals call upon the state to make an anonymous reporting tool available to each school district.

Another legislative highlight of the week occurred Thursday night as the Senate and House gathered in a joint session to hear Gov. Matt Bevin’s State of the Commonwealth Address. In a 45-minute speech, the governor declared that Kentucky is in strong shape as he touted accomplishments and job creation that have occurred in recent years.

In other legislative action this week:

– A bill that would ensure children in out-of-home care have visitation opportunities with siblings who have been placed in different homes was approved by the Senate. Senate Bill 31 now goes to the House for consideration.

– The House Health and Family Services Committee voted in favor of House Concurrent Resolution 5, which calls on federal regulators to research the benefits and risks of medical marijuana so that state policymakers can develop scientifically sound policies.

– Senate Bill 70, which would make strangulation a felony crime, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure now goes to the full Senate. If the measure becomes law, Kentucky would join 47 other states that already have such laws.

– The House and Family Services Committee approved a measure that would prohibit the use of vaping and tobacco products at Kentucky schools. The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.

– The Senate approved legislation aimed at promoting organ donation. Senate Bill 77 would allow citizens to join Kentucky’s organ donor registry when they log into a state website for governmental services offered online. The bill now goes to the House.

Citizens who would like to offer feedback to state lawmakers on the issues under consideration can do so by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.