Georgia Senate gives final OK to Kemp's school safety bill

Lawmakers rush to their seats after the voting machines open in the House Chambers on Crossover Day morning, March 6, 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

The Georgia Senate gave final approval Monday to a school safety bill pushed by Gov. Brian Kemp that includes annual active shooter drills, sending it to the Republican governor’s desk for his signature.

The Senate voted 52-3 for House Bill 147 after rejecting a series of amendments sought by Democrats on votes mainly along party lines.

The measure requires every public school to complete an active shooter drill by Oct. 1 of each year. Students would be required to participate, although districts could choose to allow parents to opt their children out.

“This is a good bill. It promotes the safety of our children and our educational personnel,” said Sen. Mike Hodges, a Brunswick Republican who carries Kemp’s bills as one of his floor leaders.

Hodges said the bill is part of Kemp’s “commitment to keeping our students, teachers and schools safe.” The governor has emphasized fighting youth gangs and crime as his second term begins.

One amendment that failed would have required districts to let parents exclude their children from the drills. The amendment’s supporters said the drills could traumatize students, especially students who may not understand what is happening.

“Research on active shooter drills show that active shooter drills make students feel unsafe, scared, helpless and sad, and their efficacy is sadly questionable,” said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat.

However, Republicans said it should be up to districts to let students opt out, and that students needed to participate for their own safety.

“Were you ever allowed to opt out of participating in a fire drill?” asked Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican. He said everyone at a school needs to “understand all emergency plans in great detail based on the society we live in today.”

The bill also requires the state Professional Standards Commission to create a school safety and anti-gang license endorsement for teachers and other certified personnel who complete a training program in “multidisciplinary best practices for promoting and preserving safe schools and for identifying and deterring youth gangs.”

A number of Democrats opposed the gang portion of that proposal, saying it could lead to students being unfairly singled out because of their race.

“I am concerned that identification-focused training could result in racial profiling of students, and it could increase their likelihood that they’ll be exposed to the criminal justice system,” said Sen. Nikki Merritt, a Grayson Democrat who sponsored other failed amendments to remove the provision on identifying youth gangs.

The bill would amend an already existing law requiring school safety plans be submitted yearly to not only local law enforcement but also the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.