The House Education Committee Wednesday voted to send legislation that would allow for armed security on the campuses of Idaho’s K-12 schools, as well as for the designation of “gun-free zones” on the campuses, to the floor for amendments.
The committee expressed concerns about the transparency of school security programs, and had concerns about the language regarding district schools and charter schools.
The bill had passed in the Senate by a margin of 33 to 1 on March 14.
“This is a compilation of a number of meetings,” Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, told the committee, as he presented Senate Bill 1133. He noted that meetings and direct communication involving the governor, the Idaho Department of Education, local law enforcement agencies and stakeholder groups statewide led to the content of the bill.
“After the school shootings in Connecticut,” said Hagedorn, “there was a high level of interest in school security, and we heard comments ranging from arming every teacher to disarming everybody in schools, and we believe the answer to our needs is somewhere in between the extremes.”
Hagedorn emphasized to the committee that within broad parameters, the bill would allow local counties and school districts to assemble their own school safety plans, noting that “the threat in Boise is going to be different than the threat in Potlatch.” He also emphasized that local county sheriffs would be designated as the ultimate authorities for safety and law enforcement within schools. “The county sheriff is the top law enforcement officer in each county, who holds ultimate authority for public safety and law enforcement in that county.”
Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, questioned Hagedorn about the role of a sheriff versus, in the case of Boise, the local police department. “I appreciate this bill and the good work you’ve done,” she said to Hagedorn. “In my city, most of the area schools are within city limits, and I’m wondering, why wouldn’t this bill involve the local police department?”
Hagedorn responded that “It does not prevent the involvement of local police. It appeals to the authority of the local county sheriff, because sheriffs are elected by the people, and chiefs of police are not elected, but rather are usually appointed or hired outright. We believe that appealing to the authority of elected officials will create more accountability with the people they serve.”
Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, lauded the positive intent of the bill, but feels it leaves open the question of local school safety. “I appreciate the good intentions of this bill,” said Hoffman. “But it has problems. Given the way it is written, nobody knows, except the local school district officials, what is included in the school safety program. There is a transparency problem here. Who is to say that a security plan is good or bad? If we don’t know what it is, we can’t say. We’re left with a situation where no one can ask the right questions or get the right answers.”
Hoffman was joined in his concern by a spokesman for the ACLU of Idaho. “Transparency is a critical component of our elective democracy,” said Monica Hopkins. “We are not well served with this broad exemption of the safety plans from public records.”
The issue of how the legislation would apply to charter schools was raised as well. “How would a charter school be impacted by this?” asked Rep. Steve Harris, R-Meridian.
“I believe charter schools are districts within themselves, and they would have the same opportunities and responsibilities,” Hagedorn replied.
“There is very school district specific language in this bill,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls. “I’m wondering if we could amend this to include charter schools language.”
“I am not an expert on how charter schools are stipulated in Idaho Code,” Hagedorn responded. “That would be a question for the department of education.”
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
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