Stripped-down school safety bill passes Indiana House

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The state would start a grant program to help school districts hire police officers and buy safety equipment under a stripped-down school security proposal approved Monday by the Indiana House.

The 86-6 vote in favor of the bill came after the Republican-controlled House pulled provisions last week that would have required all public schools to have gun-carrying employees during school hours.

A new state school safety board that the bill creates would review training and other issues surrounding the possibility of arming school staffers and submit a report to the Legislature by December.

The main portion of the bill, however, would set up a two-year matching grant program allowing school districts up to $50,000 a year and establish the safety board to develop recommendations for better securing school buildings. It also would set a 40-hour training requirement in dealing with students and school facilities for police officers hired to work in schools.

Removal of the armed-employees provisions ended what had become a sometimes-emotional debate over whether that was a proper step to improve school security following the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six educators died.

Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, described the proposal to House members on Monday as "a fairly simple bill, again, as it started out."

The bill now returns to the state Senate, which approved the grant program proposal in February.

Bill sponsor Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, said he agreed with the House decision to have the school safety board study the possibility of having non-police officers being armed at schools.

"The discussion, even though it was uncomfortable, was healthy to explore that, but that's probably a bridge to far to put that in law right away," Miller said.

Indiana law currently allows school districts to authorize people other than police officers to have guns on school property, although several officials have said they don't know of any districts that have taken that step. Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he believed such decisions should be left to local school officials, while several legislators and education groups raised questions about training standards and the appropriateness of having non-police officers carrying guns in schools.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said he continued to believe the armed-employees proposal he introduced could help improve security at schools if they face Newtown-like attacks or other instances of violence.

"Right now the best defense people have in such situation is to dial 911," Lucas said.

Having the school safety board review issues surrounding the possibility of arming teachers, principals or other civilian staffers is a good next step, he said.

"Now people, hopefully, will be comfortable in analyzing this and looking at it," Lucas said.

The Senate's version of the new two-year state budget includes $10 million a year for the safety grant program, which would offer matching grants to the state's some 300 public school districts without guaranteeing money for any of them.

Miller said he didn't expect any troubles reaching agreement with the House on a single version of the bill. He said he expected the grant program will help school districts in the work they are already doing to improve security.

"This will provide some financial resources to encourage more local law enforcement to be involved in the process," Miller said.

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