Area lawmakers: School safety not issue for special session

Area lawmakers are ready to talk about improving school safety, just not in a special session.

State Reps. Kathy Swan, Barry Hovis and Rick Francis said the issue likely will come up in the 2020 legislative session in response to an advisory task force's recommendation public schools should employ armed officers and provide mental health services to students.

All three lawmakers said Thursday a special session would not allow the time needed to deal with the issue.

Hovis, R-Gordonville, said, "I found that it is good to have plenty of time to vet things. Sometimes, there are good things that come from both sides of the aisle."

Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday directed lawmakers to undo a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling on vehicle sales taxes during a special legislative session next month.

The Republican governor scheduled the special session to begin Sept. 9.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway this week formally requested Parson call a special session to fully fund armed and trained school resource officers in all Missouri schools.

Galloway, a Democrat, is seeking to unseat Parson as governor next year.

In a news release, Galloway said, "Teachers should educate our students, law enforcement should protect our children, and lawmakers should act instead of sitting idly by while our kids are put in danger."

She added, "The state should fully fund this priority so that local districts can use their resources in the classroom."

Led by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, the Missouri School Safety Task Force issued a report July 31, which included the recommendation all schools have a school resource officer. School resource officers are law enforcement officers, and Missouri law requires they receive specialized training and certification, Galloway said.

Based on the report, approximately 60% of Missouri public schools have school resource officers.

The state does not fund school resource officer programs in individual school districts. Instead, the cost is borne by local school districts or jointly with police and sheriffs' departments.

Galloway is proposing fully funding school resource officers in all schools using existing state funding without a tax increase.

She said funding could come from eliminating "taxpayer-dollar giveaways," such as one allowing businesses to keep a portion of sales tax revenue for filing with the state on time.

But area lawmakers said the issue of how to fund school safety improvements is up for debate.

Francis, R-Perryville, questioned taking away money from businesses. "I am not sure that is the right option, but I would be open to looking at better ways to enhance safety in our schools," he said.

"If 40% of school districts do not have one (armed officer), then we ought to look at all options," he said.

But he said many schools already have taken steps to improve safety, including security at the school doors, name badges and intruder drills.

"Schools are doing such a good job, better than anytime that I was a school administrator," said Francis, a retired educator.

Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, said school superintendents have told her their biggest need is "mental health services for students."

She added, "At some point, we will want to address that."

All three lawmakers said area schools typically employ school resource officers.

I do think it is an effective program," said Hovis, who previously served as a school resource officer in the Cape Girardeau public schools.

But he questioned whether the cost should be borne by state government or by local school districts and law enforcement as is currently the case.

The Cape Girardeau School District has five officers. The school system pays the salaries of four of the officers while the city pays the salary of the other officer.

The Jackson School District also employs five resource officers.

School officials said the Jackson district pays 75% of the cost of four officers with the City of Jackson paying the other 25%. The district pays the total cost for the fifth officer, who works year-round as the schools' safety specialist.

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