Political Notebook: House passes legislation to improve school safety

Published 12:10 am Monday, March 19, 2018

Thousands of students across the nation would leave their classrooms on Wednesday in a call for congressional action.

The call was for tighter gun control and regulation that could prevent mass violence and school shootings. It came one month following a shooting that took the lives of 17 in Parkland, Florida.

“In our first amendment right, it says that we have the right to peacefully protest and the right to assemble,” said Kevin Leichman, a junior who participated in Wednesday’s demonstration at North Rowan High School, ” … It’s not just us that are doing it, it’s schools all over America. It’s … going to show the youth are involved in the community more than we think they are.”

Trystan Athey, a sophomore, spoke similarly.

“I think this should bring it to the government’s attention and they should actually start putting the work on more stricter laws and a change in school policy,” he said.

Congress was already listening and acting on their behalf: the U.S. House of Representatives would that day pass the STOP School Violence Act, legislation to improve school safety and prevent violence.   

Standing for Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence, the STOP School Violence Act passed with a bipartisan vote of 407-10. Five Republicans and five Democrats voted against it.

The bill that creates a grant program to train students, teachers, school officials and local law enforcement how to identify and intervene early when signs of violence arise. It also creates a coordinated reporting system and implements school threat assessment protocols to prevent school shootings before they happen.

This action builds off of Congress’s ongoing efforts to address school violence. Specifically, in the 21st Century Cures Act which was signed into law in December 2016, Congress permanently authorized the VALOR initiative at the Department of Justice, which trains law enforcement on appropriate actions to take in an active shooter scenario.

The law also improved the National Violent Death Reporting System at the CDC to help track violent deaths and illuminate ways they can be prevented. Other aspects were aimed at preventing an individual from reaching a point of crisis including:

  • Allowing more compassionate communication under HIPAA so family members can help individuals going through severe mental illness and facilitate treatment.
  • Providing increased grant funding for training so teachers, EMS and other professionals can appropriately intervene before someone with mental illness experiences a crisis.
  • Reauthorizing programs that focus on helping treat children early on with severe emotional disturbances.

Similarly, the House passed legislation in December 2017 to enforce existing law, improve compliance with the federal background check system and address the issue of bump stocks.

The bill, H.R. 38, was sponsored by local U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-8, and included concealed carry reciprocity, a measure that some said worked to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

Hudson was one of 100 cosponsors to Wednesday’s STOP School Violence bill. Both he and Rep Ted Budd, R-13, would vote in favor of it, with Hudson saying violence had no place in the country’s schools.

“(S)o many of us have been working for years to address the horror of mass shootings,” said Hudson. ” … Today’s legislation builds on that work and is a multi-layered approach focused on intervention and prevention. It will help give students, teachers, and law enforcement the tools and training they need to identify and report warning signs so that we can stop violence in its tracks.”

Congressman Budd agreed.

“There’s no doubt that our country has a school safety crisis, with the latest tragedy at a Florida high school being a tragic reminder,” said Budd. “(This bill) will beef up school security, direct funds to better assess school threats, and ensure our schools and law enforcement are fully trained to identify potentially violent behavior.”