Legislators eye TN teachers with guns and/or putting more police in schools

A bill that sets the stage for some teachers to carry guns in Tennessee schools cleared a House subcommittee on Wednesday on a party-line vote while a bipartisan group of lawmakers held a news conference to propose having the state pay off-duty police officers $50 an hour to patrol schools.

The proposal involving teachers with guns may be a strategy to get more professional police in the schools, reports WPLN.

The state House of Representative’s Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 5-2 to advance House Bill 2208. The measure began as a proposal to expand the training opportunities for teachers in the only two Tennessee counties where they were allowed to be armed.

But in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting on Feb. 14, it’s been expanded — opening the possibility of teachers in schools across the state being allowed to carry weapons.

The proposal is so controversial that not even the measure’s sponsor is certain arming teachers is the best solution. State Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, would prefer to assign police officers known as school resource officers, who’d be better prepared to handle an emergency in a school.

“I’m going to continue fighting for SROs,” he says, “and hopefully, if we get funding for SROs, then we won’t need this bill.”

(Note: A state law already on the books allows teachers to carry guns to class under stringent conditions — including Police Officer Standards and Training Commission training that apparently isn’t available – in Pickett and Wayne counties as a pilot project. But that law has never been implemented and the counties say they can’t afford SROs. Byrd’s bill started out as a measure to ease the present requirement, but was expanded by amendment to apply statewide.)

…Across Tennessee, just over 900 police have been assigned to schools. That’s enough for one officer in every two schools.

Some lawmakers believe the prospect of arming teachers statewide will convince Governor Bill Haslam’s administration to pay for more officers. And if schools can’t be protected by professional police, teachers with guns are better than nothing, they say.

…Separately Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a plan to pay armed police to patrol schools when they’re off duty. The program would be voluntary — both for the officers and school districts — and could result in as many as two officers assigned to each school, each day.

Supporters say the proposal is intended as an emergency measure that could get through the legislature swiftly. They say they want to keep it separate from the debate over arming teachers.

“That’s actually for a later discussion,” says state Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “Right now, we’re focusing on the need as of right now and putting an emergency stopgap in place right now.”

The program would end in 2022, unless the legislature extends it. If fully implemented, paying off-duty officers to patrol schools would cost the state about $40 million a year. The proposal calls for using assets seized from suspected criminals through forfeiture proceedings, as well as money in Tennessee’s rainy day fund.

Note II: The coalition is using HB2129, a caption bill sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough) and Sen. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) as a vehicle that will be amended under their plans to incorporate the subsidy for paying law enforcement officer to patrol schools.


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