Davin Eldridge – Staff Writer
Last week was the busiest yet for lawmakers in Raleigh during this year’s short session. Deciding to adjourn in late June, any general bills likely to pass were run last week. As Representative Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) put it, it was so that the legislature could avoid having to return to Raleigh to override a potential veto by Democrat Governor Roy Cooper.
“[The General Assembly] must pass bills of general application at least 10 days before the adjournment date, which is likely to be Friday, June 29,” said McGrady in a statement. “Other bills of general application can still be considered but any such bill needs to be totally noncontroversial since legislative leaders are not likely to let a controversial bill move forward.”
Among the bills introduced this year that seem to lack in any controversy include a series of four school safety bills. Each would make numerous changes to North Carolina’s public school system, and each has broad bipartisan support in the House.
Back-to-back, House Bills 937-940 appear to be the culmination of the legislature’s response to the latest school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
In essence, the bills would do the following:
• Officially define what a School Resource Officer (SRO) is, by law, and fully cements what their the role should be. It also requires special training for SROs, at the behest of the House select committee. The bill defines an SRO as one “who is assigned to one or more public schools, at least 20 hours per week, to assist with school security, safety, emergency preparedness, emergency response, or any other responsibility assigned by the school or law enforcement agency. The bill essentially requires all SROs to comply with any continuing education or training requirements. The bill also plainly states that each SRO be given, at a bare minimum, “diversity and equity, tactical, and mental health training.” If passed, the bill would become law, effective immediately, and would apply to SROs employed beginning with the 2019-20 school year.
• Requires peer-to-peer support programs at all schools, grades six and up. It further provides that all school counselors, as a direct service, shall coordinate and provide training for students in peer-to-peer student support programs that address conflict resolution, general health and wellness, and mentoring. The Center for Safer Schools will support school counselors in this endeavor.
• Makes annual vulnerability assessments of schools mandatory, which will be under the guidance of the Division of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management and the Center for Safer Schools. The divisions will compile all data from each assessment into a comprehensive database, while taking into account any existing risk management programs already in place throughout the state.
• Implements anonymous tip lines and mobile apps, for use by students, faculty or the general public.
• Requires each school administration to complete annual reports of their SROs, in conjunction with the Center for Safer Schools.
– Requires all public schools, while encouraging all private schools, to develop a school risk management plan, hold school safety exercises, and provide school safety information to local law enforcement and the division of emergency management.
Altogether, the bills have around 60 sponsors, mostly Republican. Among those Republicans from the western part of the state is Representative Kevin Corbin (R-Macon), who offered some insight on where the House GOP stands on the issue of school safety.
“These bills are a beginning, not the end, of school safety legislation,” said Corbin on Friday. “We will be doing more and funding of more school safety measures as the short session continues. We are adding quite a bit in the budget for public education and a fair amount of that will be under the umbrella of school safety.”
While Corbin said lawmaking wasn’t a panacea to the issue, he said it was a start.
“There is no way to legislate 100 percent safety but we need to take all reasonable measures to make sure our schools are as safe as reasonably possible for our staff and students,” he said.
Corbin remains confident that the legislature is poised to make a difference as soon as it can with regard to school safety. So far, he thankfully added, that difference doesn’t include arming teachers.
“I would never vote to arm teachers,” he said. “I would like to see a measure that encouraged retired military and retired law enforcement to volunteer as security in our schools. Perhaps give them a break on their income taxes based on their volunteer time.”
It’s still not clear, however, whether the bills will pass by the end of June.
“The next 10 days are going to be like a legislative roller coaster ride,” said McGrady, who recently announced he’ll be seeking his fifth term in the House. “Anyone who says they know what is going to happen or what is going to pass is fibbing. The next week will be a long one, and this legislator is looking forward to coming home.”