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April 11, 2013

Indiana House turns aside school guns proposal

INDIANAPOLIS —  The Indiana House on Thursday pulled a proposal to have the state’s public schools consider having employees, including teachers and principals, carry guns during school hours.

House members in a voice vote without dissent approved a Republican amendment that stripped mentions of the armed employees proposal from a bill on school security.

In its place, lawmakers added a proposal for a new state school safety board to review training and other issues surrounding the possibility of arming school staffers. The board would submit a report to the Legislature by Dec. 1.

Republican and Democratic legislators applauded after about three minutes of discussion on the amendment, which diffused an issue that first emerged last week when a House committee advanced a proposal that would have required all public schools, including charter schools, to have armed employees.

Another committee this week removed the mandate after Republican Gov. Mike Pence and other officials said they believed such decisions should be left to local school officials. Several legislators and education groups also raised questions about training standards and the appropriateness of having non-police officers carrying guns in schools.

The revised bill still would have authorized the armed employees and required local school boards to decide each year whether to take that step — until the Republican-controlled House backed away on Thursday.

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said he thought the proposal had been “moving very, very rapidly.”

“We all want to do what’s right and we all want to protect our kids, but we don’t want to hurt someone with unintended consequences,” Soliday said.

Democratic Rep. Linda Lawson, a retired Hammond police captain, had pleaded with the House Ways and Means Committee this week to reject the armed employee provisions because she was worried that teachers or others would be ineffective in responding to an attack.

Lawson extolled Thursday’s move in the House. “We need to look at this bill thoroughly,” she said.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, sponsored the armed employee provision in the House Education Committee last week, saying he was worried that most of Indiana’s some 1,900 public schools are defenseless against attacks such as the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six teachers were killed.

Lucas said after Thursday’s vote that he was disappointed but would continue to advocate for the proposal.

“The good thing is we have everyone talking about it,” he said. “Our goal is to find the best, most-cost effective way to ensure that our children and educators are safe.”

The House is expected to vote Monday on the remaining provisions of the bill, which aims to start a state grant program to help school districts buy safety equipment and hire police officers who’ve undergone extra training on dealing with students to become school resource officers.

The Senate previously backed the grant program, and its budget proposal advanced this week includes $10 million for the program.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the armed employees proposal faced many questions from legislators and the public in the past week.

“It pretty clear after we talked about it that the proper thing to do was to take a breath, take some time, look at the issue before we jumped headlong into the full-blown policy,” Bosma said. “It was clear that a lot of education needed to be done before we moved forward.”

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