Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

April 7, 2013

STATEHOUSE: School safety bill weighted down by gun mandate

INDIANAPOLIS — Late last year, when freshman state Sen. Pete Miller was asked to carry Senate Bill 1 in the Indiana General Assembly, he never envisioned the legislation would become the gun bill of the 2013 session.

The bill, as it started out, offered what the father of three school-aged children viewed as a thoughtful approach to school safety in the wake of the tragic Connecticut school shooting: Free up some state dollars to help local schools partner with law enforcement to better guard the safety of their students.

It created a $10 million matching grant fund that school districts could tap to hire law enforcement officers specially trained in school safety and set up a task force of safety experts to study what works best.

But last week, Senate Bill 1 took on a new shape. The House Committee on Education amended the legislation in a way that would make Indiana the first state in the nation to mandate that all public schools have an employee armed with a loaded gun during school hours.

The change propelled the bill into the national headlines and left Miller fielding multiple media inquiries, including one from The New York Times.

It’s also left him feeling a little frustrated, asking for patience as reporters pressed him to weigh in on the change.

“This bill is not about guns,” Miller said. “This bill is about how do we keep kids safe and buildings secure. That was the intent. We have many different opinions and perspectives on how we do that.”

Some of those opinions will likely be voiced when the bill goes to the House Ways and Means Committee Monday.

But Gov. Mike Pence and Senate President David Long have already weighed in. Both said they oppose the state mandating armed employees in schools. Miller, too, thinks the mandate will likely be gone by the time the bill reaches its final form.

Likely left intact will be the $10 million matching grant fund for local schools and the task force of safety experts charged with finding the “best practices” in school security.

Pence likes that approach and said so during a Statehouse news conference Thursday.

“I have a strong bias for local control,” he said. He also cited what he called a model program for school safety developed in Vigo County that could be replicated in other communities.

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