The Georgia Senate approved a bill Wednesday meant to improve school security. The vote came about two weeks after the one-year anniversary of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The legislation centers on three areas of safety: prevention, physical security and response.
Prevention is the biggest focus of the bill, which expands mental health services in schools and requires safety training for students and staff. Each school would have to develop a safety plan detailing security measures and how it would respond to an attack.
The plan would be assessed by outside agencies.
“The Department of Education and local law enforcement will review that plan with them every year to make sure we’re doing all the right things: we’re dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t,’” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell.
Some Senate Democrats were critical of the bill, saying it fails to address gun control. That was of particular concern to Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, who survived a school shooting in high school.
“One of my classmates was killed,” Williams said. “I was standing right there when another classmate showed up with a gun—went home during a break and came back on campus with a gun and shot and killed my classmate.”
Williams questioned whether the bill would do much to prevent another school shooting.
“What I would’ve like to have seen was us really address what people have been talking about around school safety, and that is guns in our schools,” she said.
Sen. Jennifer Jordan, D-Atlanta, voted for the bill but doesn’t think it goes far enough.
“While there are good things in this bill that I am absolutely for, at the end of the day, we’re not even addressing the core problem, which deals with gun issues and the prevalence of gun violence in this state,” Jordan said.
The bill came about after two legislative study committees held hearings on school safety and security throughout the state. They heard from law enforcement, school officials, and community members. Albers chaired the Senate committee. On the Senate floor, Jordan asked him why gun control was excluded from the legislation.
“When we talk about prevention, what we’re talking about is the prevention of mass shootings at schools, correct?” Jordan asked.
“Actually Senator, we’re talking about a lot of things…but unfortunately, [the] suicide rate has gone up [extraordinarily],” Albers said. “And our goal is to make sure a student never goes down a dark path to harm themselves nor others, and it could be a variety of issues.”
Gov. Brian Kemp made school safety a centerpiece of his campaign. He has budgeted almost $70 million dollars to give each school a $30,000 school security grant. He also allocated $8.4 million to expand mental health services.