Proponents say the legislation is a needed option for financially strapped schools.
The legislation passed the House Education Committee on a voice vote Tuesday, and the companion bill was later approved 6-2 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposal would allow schools to hire retired law enforcement officers after they meet certain requirements, such as completing a 40-hour school security course.
Police officers are typically required to have about 400 hours of training.
State Rep. Eric Watson sponsors H.B. 6 and Sen. Frank Nicely sponsored S.B. 570.
"As amended, this bill would allow previous or current law enforcement officers across the state to possess a firearm on school property if the person has a handgun carry permit, is authorized in writing by the school superintendent, who is in compliance with all laws, rules and regulations of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, and has had at least 40 hours of basic school police training,” Watson said.
Jim Wrye, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said there are about 200 criminal science teachers in Tennessee public schools who are former police officers.
"It opens up a lot of opportunities for retired deputies and police officers to serve as school resource officers," Wrye said.
Sen. Mike Bell agreed, noting that many schools can't afford to hire additional school resource officers.
"They're giving our local schools, especially our rural schools, who do not have the financial means to hire SROs a way to have a trained, licensed, certified person carry a firearm to protect children," said the Riceville Republican.
However, Democratic Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson said he'd like to see the governor's budget provide funding to put school resource officers in each school.
"If it's really a priority, then let's put the money in to hire them for every school," he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam has included $34 million in his budget for local school officials to use on their priorities. The money is distributed to schools districts based on the BEP formula, according to Bell.
Wrye said TEA would like to see school resource officers at every school, but "we know that it's financially impossible at this moment."
Bell said it would cost $90 million to fund SROs in every school in the state.
Watson said the School Security Act of 2013 will next be heard in the House Finance Committee after passing both Civil Justice and Education Committees. If passed there, the bill will be heard in the Calendar and Rules Committee before going to the House floor for a vote by the full House of Representatives. If the becomes law, it would take effect in the 2013-14 academic year and each school year thereafter.
Sponsors have said they expect much of the money to go toward security in the wake of the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
A representative from the governor's office has said Haslam is OK with the legislation.