Bill to arm TN teachers advances; sponsor says Haslam school safety plan not enough

A controversial bill that would let designated Tennessee educators go armed in schools cleared another House hurdle Tuesday, despite concerns raised by law enforcement officials and others, reports the Times Free Press.

Civil Justice Committee members approved the bill (HB2208) on an 8-3 vote, just hours after Gov. Bill Haslam announced he was providing $25 million in one-time money and $5.2 million more in annual state dollars to address some school-safety issues.

During debate on legislation to arm teachers, sponsor Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, a retired educator, who had delayed the measure to see what money Gov. Bill Haslam would recommend, told the panel “I could tell we probably wouldn’t get that money. That’s why I started to bring this back.”

Byrd, a retired principal, said his rural school district can’t afford to pay for school resource officers (SROs), who are law enforcement officers given additional training to specifically deal with school situations.

Prior to the committee, Byrd told the Times Free Press he didn’t see enough money in Haslam’s proposed budget amendment to cover the costs of funding school resource officers. Haslam previously told reporters that hiring SROs or personnel takes “a lot of dollars.”

‚ĶMinority Democrats objected to Byrd’s bill, raising alarms about potential mishaps, or worse, that could arise in situations involving inadequately trained teachers. They also quarreled with Republicans over gun restrictions in various states.

“I’m sorry,” scoffed Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, “the most dangerous place to be is a gun-free zone.”

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch also fretted over the idea of arming educators, telling the panel “we’re concerned about the overall safety of the school.” Environments with an active shooter are a “combat situation,” Rausch warned. “If they’re not properly trained for that, that’s a concern for us.”

Terry Ashe, a former sheriff and now executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs Association, said “we fundamentally believe that SROS are the only way to go.”

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