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Local bodies push governor on bill

Drew Granthum
For the FCT

MONTGOMERY – Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow didn’t mince words at press conference Tuesday to discuss the vetoing of the Volunteer Security Force Bill, or HB 116.
“We beg you, Governor Bentley, please answer this wake up call,” he said. “And make security in our public schools a top priority of your administration.”
Morrow, along with Sen. Roger Bedford, is planning to re-file the bill, which would allow for schools in rural areas to create a volunteer security force in a partnership with local law enforcement, in the event an intruder were to come on to their campuses. The bill would only apply to schools who had no student resource officer and were in remote areas that would take law enforcement agencies an extended period of time to reach.
Morrow called into question what he felt was a lack of emphasis on the safety of students.
“The Connecticut murders and the Dale County murder all occurred with the last four months and the Governor and the legislative leadership have yet to come forward with a plan,” he said. “[One] to protect our pre-k through 12th grade students who attend public school in Alabama; it’s like [the shootings] never happened.”
He also said the intent of the press conference was to address growing concern about the safety of students in rural schools.
“[It]’s about two issues: the first issues is ‘Do we provide the same degree of security to our public school children as we provide to our Governor and legislature, to adults who attend college, and to county officials in courthouses,” he said. “The second issue [is] now that [the Governor and House of Representatives has] rejected the security plan developed by Franklin County law enforcement and education leaders…what is your plan to protect Franklin County students?”
Also on hand to speak was Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams, who expressed his concerns about the time in which law enforcement agencies would be able to reach a rural school should something happen.
“Most of these schools would take up to 30 minutes for law enforcement to get there in an emergency situation,” he said. “We do have two schools inside the city limits, but there might be one officer that could get to the school within five to ten minutes, which five to ten minutes with an intruder in the school with an automatic weapon would seem like an eternity.”
Williams also said the county school system simply could not afford a resource officer, which salaries for range from $23,000 and up.
“Let me say this about Franklin County,” he said.  “Our finances are where we can’t hire one [student resource officer]. That’s the reason we’re passing it to Johnny Mack to do what he can in this legislative session to do what we can do to help us. We feel helpless.”
Morrow pointed out the cost of security measures for other entities, money spent to protect the governor and Northwest Shoal Community College as opposed to what is spent on protecting Franklin County students, which he listed at $0.
“Franklin County School System has 3,301 unprotected children, and the State of Alabama spent zero on those 3,301 students,” he said. “The governor, one person, [uses] $3,931,152 per year. Nineteen security guards are posted around the state house when the legislature is in session. Northwest-Shoals Community College [uses] $600,000 per year. With all this, with the Sandy Hook shooting incident, with the Dale County incident, the Governor, when he submitted his 2014 budget for the educational trust fund, he recommended no funding for school resource officers.”
In addition to Morrow and Williams speaking, Alicia Cooper, a second grade teacher at Phil Campbell Elementary spoke, along with her son Mason Swinney, a third grader at Phil Campbell.
“After the Sandy Hook shooting, Mason came in my room and told me…he was scared,” Cooper said. “He said ‘Is it going to come here, Mom?’ He said that because he lost a teacher and two classmates in the tornado April 27 [2011]. He had seen those things on TV but they had never come to Phil Campbell, and then one day they did. Our students at Phil Campbell saw death can really happen.”
The bill passed through both the House and Senate with no problem, but was vetoed by Gov. Robert Bentley on March 5, citing the need for a better explanation of the training the security force would receive in the bill.
Morrow said he felt it was a product of partisan politics.
“I would’ve added that if the governor had sent an executive amendment,” he said. “That’s all he had to do. There’s another reason; I don’t know what it is.”
In a joint release, both Morrow and Bedford called for the state legislature to increase efforts to protect students.
“It is important that we do all we can to make sure our schools are safe,” said Bedford. “We must continue to search for solutions by working with our local officials to solve the problems with the violence in our schools.”
Morrow echoed the sentiment.
“Governor Bentley has already given up his salary until the state’s unemployment rate drops and every Alabamian has a chance at a job,” he said.
“We are just asking him to make the same commitment to the safety of our children and educators.”
A representative from the National Rifle Association, which is looking at similar plans nationally, was in attendance.