Bentley wants more specifics in school safety bill
Gov. Robert Bentley’s office said Friday that Bentley would not be opposed to local school safety bills such as the one proposed by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow as long as the bills met certain standards.
Last month, Bentley vetoed HB116, which would have allowed for the creation of a volunteer security force inside schools in Franklin County.
At the time, Bentley said he was concerned with the way the bill was written. Since then, Morrow and State Sen. Roger Bedford have questioned the governor for specifics and asked what his plans are for providing safety to Alabama schools.
During a press conference Tuesday, Franklin County schools Superintendent Gary Williams said that some county schools would have to wait for as long as 30 minutes before police arrived in the event of an emergency.
Friday, Jeremy King, director of communications for the governor’s office, said Bentley would support local bills if they were specific in nature and the security forces were comprised of adequately trained personnel.
“If you’re going to be entrusted with protecting our children and teachers, you need to have the proper training,” King said.
“The bill did not provide adequate training guidelines for the people who would be given such an important responsibility. The bill also created a liability against the state for accidents caused by the local security force. That made it a statewide bill, not a local bill.
“Gov. Bentley would not be opposed to a local bill if the security force members are APOSTC certified, if they’re properly trained to combat active shooters, and if the liability rests with the county. Those three requirements should be in any legislation establishing this type of security force.”
APOSTC stands for Alabama Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission, which provides a good standard of training for armed law enforcement, King said.
“Gov. Bentley wants well-trained people to be the ones who protect the students of Franklin County. If they’re not well trained, that could actually cause more harm to students than having no one at all. The best people to take care of our students are properly trained law enforcement. Gov. Bentley also believes officers should be trained in the proper methods of combating an active shooter.”
King said the governor is working to increase the amount of officers who are specially trained to combat active shooters.
“We are working with the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to make sure that training is available and that more local officers are receiving that training.
“Under Gov. Bentley’s leadership, the amount of officers who have that training has risen from less than 30 percent to roughly 45 percent in just a couple months’ time. We want to see every officer receive that training, and we’re working to make that training available to more officers. By increasing this training, we will be able to make our entire communities safer.”
King said the recent passage of the Alabama Accountability Act would allow for flexibility in budgeting and could free up funding to allow schools to hire resource officers.
The Russellville City Schools system now has a resource officer in all four schools.
“Gov. Bentley is giving local schools flexibility to address security needs,” King said.
“The Alabama Accountability Act that the governor recently signed includes flexibility in budgeting. Local schools now have the ability to re-allocate funding for local needs, including security. Where there’s a need for additional security, schools can use the flexibility provided by the bill to re-allocate funding to meet that need. This bill gives control to local school communities.
“Gov. Bentley believes strongly in protecting our children and teachers. We are working on a variety of methods to improve school safety, which does not always require legislation. We understand the security concerns of schools in Franklin County, and we are addressing this issue in a manner that can benefit Franklin County and all counties all over the state.
“We are currently working with our Alabama Department of Homeland Security on a strategic active shooter response and prevention plan. This can increase the safety not only of schools, but also all public buildings. There are many components involved in prevention and response, and we are taking a comprehensive approach. Additional details will be announced soon.”
On Thursday, Morrow sent a letter to the governor asking him to place Alabama National Guard personnel in all state schools.
“I am calling on you today to use your power of office to assign an armed National Guard person to daily duty at each and every school that does not have a security guard until you fund a school resource officer for each school in our state,” the letter said.
“Apparently you have rejected our public plea on Tuesday, April 2, to use the almost $4 million spent for your personal security or to reduce the 19 guards around the Legislature during the session to help pay for security guards at our public schools.”
King disputed the amount that Morrow claims is used on the governor’s security detail.
“That is the average annual cost of the dignitary protection unit, which covers all state dignitaries who receive security, not just the governor. To say that $3.9 million is spent on only the governor’s security is inaccurate.”
Morrow reiterated the fact that he was displeased with the governor’s decision to veto HB116 and called for more action on school safety issues.
“It was absolutely wrong of you to veto my local House Bill 116, which would have helped Franklin County take actions to protect our students in isolated schools. The perception is totally negative when you and the Legislature are spending millions for security while you do nothing for the safety of school children,” Morrow said in the letter.
“Again, use the power of your office to put an armed member of the Alabama National Guard in every school in Alabama that needs a security guard.”
King stood by the governor’s statement that he only supported the use of APOSTC personnel.