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House approves school resource officer bill

By Jordan Hensley, LRC

Frankfort, KY - The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday that seeks to put a school resource officer (SRO) at every school in the Commonwealth.

House Bill 63 is a follow up to Senate Bill 1, or the School Safety and Resiliency Act, from the 2019 Regular Session. SB 1 required school districts to assign at least one SRO to each school in a district as funds and qualified personnel become available.

Primary sponsor Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, says HB 63 would require schools who can place a SRO at each school to do so by Aug. 1. If sufficient funds and qualified personnel are not available, HB 63 directs the school district to work with the state school security marshal at the state Center for School Safety to address those issues.

"A byproduct of House Bill 63 is that the Safety Center can keep good statistics on the reasons why schools cannot achieve the intent of an SRO on every campus," Bratcher said.

HB 63 would not provide funding for SROs. Bratcher said having the statistics on why school districts are struggling to fund and find SROs would be the first step in considering possible future legislation that would appropriate state funds for SROs.

"We got to know 'why' before we fund something," Bratcher said. "... House Bill 63 is not an unfunded mandate. It is just a great new step to achieve what the original Senate Bill 1 wanted all the time, and that is safety in our schools."

Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, attempted to pass a floor amendment to fully fund SROs for each public school in Kentucky. The amendment failed.

In speaking against Donohue's floor amendment, Bratcher reiterated more research needs to be done before the General Assembly decides to fully fund SROs in schools.

Lawmakers debated for an hour on HB 63. Several lawmakers spoke against the measure, citing statistics, personal negative experiences with SROs, and opinions from constituents who are against SROs in schools.

In explaining her "no" vote on HB 63, Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, shared she's heard from student constituents who have had negative interactions with SROs. Scott believes the General Assembly should focus on other ways to improve school safety.

"We must work to ensure we have stronger anti-bullying policies, suicide prevention measures and common sense gun safety measures, which we, as a body, have failed to address time and time again," Scott said. "We should be prioritizing mental health resources, such as trained professionals in our schools, not armed guards."

Several lawmakers also rose to speak in favor of HB 63. Many of those in favor of the measure shared stories of a time a SRO prevented a violent act at a public school in their district.

Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, shared her positive experiences with SROs at the schools she attended as a child.

"Truly, I felt safer knowing that an SRO was there," Heavrin said. "And not only did they protect students, but they were also part of our community. They made relationships and helped with community relationships."

HB 63 cleared the House floor by a 78-17 vote. It will now head to the Senate for consideration.

This story was posted on 2022-02-15 19:05:02
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