The Senate on Monday passed a series of school safety bills proposed by the Senate Republican conference just days after they stopped efforts from the Senate Democrats to strengthen gun control last week.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, responded negatively toward the Republican legislation package, accusing them of “burying their heads in the sand.”
The 16 bills seek to improve school safety through infrastructure investments, expanding state actions to protect schools and strengthening penalties for crimes committed on school grounds. They also seek to provide schools with more resources such as mental health services and security personnel.
Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, proposed bills that would define school resource officers (SRO) and provide grant availability. SROs are retired police officers or active duty officers and school districts throughout the state except for New York City would receive state funding to hire them (S.7811-a). The SROs would improve security and be authorized to possess firearms if licensed to do so.
Retired police officers who are employed by a school district as an SRO will also be given peace officer status (S.1144-a). The earning limitations for retired officers who are SROs would also be increased (S.7791). The per year limit would be increased to $50,000 from $30,000.
“As a former state trooper and Erie County Sheriff, I believe strongly in the SRO program as a way to enhance safety in our schools,” Gallivan said. “In addition to providing security, these trained law enforcement officers build a relationship with the school community by working with administrators, staff, students and parents to help identify safety issues, train personnel and resolve conflicts before they become more serious.”
Sen. Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn, sponsored a bill (S.6798-a) that would change the current placement of unarmed officers in New York City schools. The bill proposes that a police officer guard be present at all New York City school entrances. Officers would be required to be present during all instructional hours and for at least an hour before and after school hours. The bill is sponsored in the Assembly (A.9975) by Assemblyman Ron Castorina, R-Richmond Valley.
Other bills would provide safety improvements through infrastructure investments.
Sen. Thomas Croci, R-Sayville, proposed a bill (S.7790) that would create a security hardware aid program. This bill would provide aid to school districts to improve security and to acquire safety technology.
Another proposed aid program is through Sen. James Tedisco’s “Guardians for Schools” license plates initiative (S.7847). Every purchase of a “Guardians for Schools” license plate would put money money aside to help fund modifications to improve school safety. The fund would go toward SROs, security training and mental health counseling among other safety initiatives.
Sen. Elaine Phillips, R-Flower Hill, is sponsoring a bill (S.7846) that would have the Smart Schools Review Board improve the process of allocating additional funds. The bill would require that the board meet monthly and approve plans proposed by schools, provide updates and notify schools within seven days of rejected or modified plans.
“The State Education Department is withholding valuable financial resources, which could be used to assist schools throughout the state with enhanced safety and security efforts to protect our children,” Phillips said. “Because of this, I have introduced legislation that would require the Smart School Review Board to meet monthly, notify school districts in a timely matter and provide much needed funding to districts within 30 days when approved.”
The bill package also seeks to increase school protection against attacks through state actions. One initiative is to upgrade school safety improvement teams (S.7832). Sponsored by Croci, this bill would expand school safety improvement teams to include representatives for the state Division of Homeland Security, State Police, Department of Criminal Justice Services, Office of General Services and Education Department.
In an effort to better prepare schools, Felder also proposed a bill to increase active shooter drills (S.7845). It would require that two of the four annual lock-down drills be active shooter drills. The School Safety Improvement Teams would be able to provide recommendations on conduct during the drills.
Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, proposed a bill that would define school shootings as terrorism (S.7813-a). If passed, individuals who knowingly use a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, place of worship, mass gathering or business would be charged with committing an act of terrorism. The bill would also include the New York State Intelligence center as a means to improve intelligence and prevent attacks.
Other crimes committed on school grounds would also be punished more severely. Gallivan is sponsoring a bill that would make school bomb threats be punishable by prosecution (S.2512/A.3286). An individual who issues a threat to harm 10 or more people on school grounds would be guilty of a felony. The Assembly bill is being sponsored by Assemblyman Robin Shimminger, R-Kenmore.
Tedisco’s bill, Suzanne’s Law (S.2881/A.6582), would increase penalties for assaults or abductions that take place on school grounds. The bill would create assault and abduction free school zones that would make sentences for crimes committed against a person on school grounds one category higher than already existing laws. It is being sponsored in the Assembly by Fred Thiele, R-Sag Harbor.
As a means to increase security, Sen. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn, proposed legislation that would introduce scanner technology over traditional metal detectors. Scanners would increase school ability to detect guns.
“We need to protect our students without making them feel as if they are passing through a TSA checkpoint on their way to class,” Golden said. “This technology does just that.”
Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, is set to sponsor legislation that would create wearable personal security alarms for teachers and school personnel. In case of an emergency, the button could be pushed and first-responders would be alerted.
Ritchie also introduced a bill (S.7838) that would require the state Department of Education to assess and improve mental health resources in schools. The Department of Education would be required to report on the number of counselors, social workers and psychologists at schools and the ratio between them and students. The state must then propose ways to meet nationally accepted ratios.
Another mental health bill was proposed by Croci to establish a mental health services coordinator aid program (S.7805). The aid program would make school districts outside of New York City eligible for a $50,000 reimbursement in state funding to hire a mental health services coordinator. The coordinator’s role would be to work with students, faculty and other health or mental health professionals to address potentially dangerous mental health issues.
“The mental health crisis we are witnessing in our communities demands our schools have the professionals in place to identify young people in crisis,” Croci said. “It is imperative that we get these students the mental health services necessary, before they turn to violence.”
Stewart-Cousins released a statement against the Republican effort to make schools safer. She blamed the Republicans cowardice to stand up to the NRA for the country’s inability to create proper gun legislation.
“This country has a mass shooting epidemic that has included schools, movie theaters, nightclubs, and workplaces,” Stewart-Cousins said. “This why we need to pass legislation keeping military style weapons and accessories off the streets and guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”