Gov. Bill Haslam also announced he is budgeting $34 million to address ongoing capital needs that could be used for increased security measures for public schools along with proposing investing in crisis stabilization units. Legislators have heard from countless constituents asking for more security in public schools.
After the Virginia Tech shooting occurred in 2007, Watson said he and other members of the Judiciary committee began working on campus safety in 2008. Many hours and summer studies were spent on the discussion of school safety.
“Constituents in our community expect all of us to be vigilant in protecting our children. Violent behavior in the school system has a lasting impression on a child’s well-being for years,” he said. “I want to thank the county commissioners for funding the school resource officer program for our schools. School resource officers are an important part of the solution to the threats facing our students.
“They serve as mentors to our children and are an invaluable asset to our schools. However, SROs often have other responsibilities or factors that prevent their presence in our schools. Court appearances, sick leave, vacation time, or [being] forced to leave the school to answer calls are a few examples of reasons for a temporary absence from school buildings.”
In a recent California school shooting case, the officer assigned to the school was absent due to snow on the day of the shooting, Watson said. There will be times when SROs will need additional help. Current state law prohibits public schools from hiring armed security guards or providing any security other than security personnel provided by local law enforcement.
“The legislation I have introduced will allow the local school systems to fill in those gaps of protection,” he said. “This legislation requires at least one SRO or similarly trained security person on every K-12 campus in Tennessee to provide protection from violent offenders.”
Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The NRA fully supports this legislation.”
Jim Wrye, government relations manager with the Tennessee Education Association, commented, “The position of TEA is to have an SRO or highly trained security personnel in every school. After reviewing the points of the Watson/Niceley school security proposal, nothing in the bill contradicts the TEA position. We see it is a path to having an SRO in every school. This legislation is very important to Tennessee teachers.”
According to J.C. Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, “We have been pleased to work with Rep. Watson and Sen. Niceley on this legislation. Rep. Eric Watson has been a true champion in working to make the school environment safe for students, teachers and administrators. School safety has been one of Rep. Watson’s major areas of focus as a legislator. We believe this bill is a step in the right direction and encourage members of the 108th General Assembly to support this critical legislation. We believe that all Tennessee schools must be safe and secure, as well as a places of learning. Lawless shootings on school campuses should never be tolerated and perpetrators must meet swift justice.”
Discussions and research have been continuing for years and now is the time for action. Protection of our schools is not the exclusive authority of any single government agency. This should not be a political battle. All elected officials must make the safety of our children their ultimate goal.
“I want to thank Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel and Principal Todd Shoemaker of Bradley Central High School for including me in their recent press conference to speak about this legislation,” he said. “They all have been a great help in this important piece of legislation.”