By Devon Sanders and Joby Richard, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The Senate Education Committee on Thursday refused to approve a bill that would have allowed schools officials to possess firearms in a decision that marked a second defeat for efforts to arm teachers.
A 15-year-old student, Lily Wilder, testified against the bill, arguing that having guns on school campuses would not be effective and would lead to questions about where to store them. She also feared that students would lack input on which school officials could carry firearms.
“Considering the students are who are with the teachers every day,” Wilder said, “I believe we know them best.”
The bill, called the “Safe Schools Act,” was proposed by Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport. It would have allowed schools to designate people to possess firearms, and it would have enabled schools to have any student who posed a threat placed in police custody.
All six members of the committee except for Milkovich voted to defer the bill. Five Republicans and one other Democrat sit on the committee.
“Obviously, everyone in the Western Hemisphere knows that we have a problem with armed gunmen plowing into schools and mowing down unprotected kids,” Milkovich said. “I think we need to be armed, and I think we need to have responsible adults armed to protect our kids.”
But Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, said that even highly trained law enforcement officers
“make judgement errors. To put a teacher in a situation where they are given that responsibility or burden is beyond what most teachers want to do.”
Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, added: “I think I’m against it because I’m not sure if this is any good. I would rather see us focus on the perimeter and keep the bad guys out. That’s just me and what I believe.”
A bill to require student who make credible threats to seek mental health evaluations before returning to school did pass the House Education Committee on Thursday. Non-students who make such threats will be barred from coming within 500 feet of a campus until a mental evaluation is completed.
Lawmakers throughout the country have been debating measures on gun violence after multiple shootings and threats of violence like the one in Florida that killed 17 high school students and staff members in February.
This was the second bill considered in this legislative session that addressed arming teachers in schools. The first bill, by Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, was rejected by a House committee last Wednesday.
Members of the Senate Education Committee and witnesses also were concerned about the part of the Milkovich bill that would have allowed any school employee to call police and have a student thought to be a threat to themselves or others removed from campus and placed in custody.
From there, the student, and a parent or guardian, would have had to attend a court hearing to determine whether the child could come back to school within three days.
Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, was concerned that the bill did not clearly define the reasons for removal.
Ashley McReynolds, the mother of a disabled child attending school in East Baton Rouge Parish, argued that her son had frequent outbursts that required specialized care.
She worried that if the bill passed, he could be removed from campus by a school employee who was not aware of his disability.