Republicans in the Kansas House on Tuesday unveiled a plan they say will make schools safer.
Really more of a plan to get a plan, it calls for the Kansas State Department of Education and state emergency response and law enforcement agencies to develop statewide standards for “safe and secure school buildings.”
The standards would provide districts with best-practice guidelines for securing buildings and training staff and students how to respond in emergencies. The education department would provide districts with technical assistance. Financial assistance would come from a new $5 million state grant program.
“We know this will make a difference,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, flanked by several Republican lawmakers. No Democrats attended their hastily called news conference.
The GOP plan, developed in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, would encourage Kansas school administrators to use a program developed by the NRA to educate students about firearm safety. But unlike a previous bill, it wouldn’t preclude the use of other gun safety curricula.
“It’s not a mandate,” Ryckman said. “It’s a suggestion.”
Rep. Brenda Dietrich, a former Topeka school superintendent, backed the plan but said care should be taken not to turn schools into fortresses.
“Our buildings need to be safe and secure without a doubt,” she said. “They also need to be warm and nurturing and welcoming.”
Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, brushed aside questions about the future of other measures intended to reduce gun deaths. He said GOP lawmakers were united on the school security plan. They're still split on other proposals, including one that would allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people seen as immediate suicide risks or domestic violence threats.
Senate leaders have pledged to give that bill a hearing but it hasn’t been scheduled. Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican and sponsor of that “red flag” bill, has said if necessary she will attempt to force a vote on it.
Two House-passed gun bills cleared a Senate committee earlier this week. One would expand the list of people prohibited from owning firearms to include those convicted of domestic violence and those subject to restraining orders to keep them from stalking or harassing others. The other would allow people with permits from other states to also carry concealed firearms in Kansas.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.