Governor Scott Walker on Thursday called for a special session of the Wisconsin State Legislature to pass his $100 million School Safety Plan.
“No child, parent, or teacher should ever have to feel unsafe in school,” said Walker in a statement Thursday. “This package of bills focuses on ways we can help schools be safe, just like we did at the federal level ensuring that every airport and airplane were safe after 9/11. The same thing needs to be true for our schools all across the State of Wisconsin. We are putting $100 million behind this plan.”
Walker has been discussing a school safety plan with legislative leaders for some time following the school shooting in Parkland, FL when 17 students were killed by a lone gunman. The gunman was a former student at the school who had been expelled. He was known as a possible threat to the school, and the FBI was notified ahead of time before the mass murder that the shooter was likely to commit some violent action. Despite the warnings, and other police contacts, the ex-student was able to walk into the school, pull the fire alarm and begin shooting.
The Parkland, FL murders have sparked a national debate on gun control and school safety. On Wednesday, students nationwide, often encouraged by their school districts and Democratic politicians, staged “walkouts” to protest against gun rights. In Madison, student protesters, encouraged by their teachers, were bused from campus to campus by activists before they marched to the Capitol. Tony Evers, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and a Democratic candidate for governor, was among the Democratic politicians encouraging the students in Madison to miss school.
Walker’s plan has seven parts:
- Establishing the Office of School Safety under the Wisconsin Department of Justice
- Creating a $100 million School Safety Grant Program under the Office of School Safety
- Requiring Mandatory Reporting for any threats of school violence
- Amending bullying statue to include prompt parental notification
- Incorporating Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) into training programs
- Strengthening school safety plan requirements
- Encouraging cooperation with local law enforcement
In addition to those measures, Walker signed an executive order that would require competitive bidding for school safety projects by “directing the State of Wisconsin to further assist school districts by facilitating use of existing state contracts and creating new state contracts that includes safety and security equipment, supplies and services at competitively-bid prices and advantageous terms.”
The costs of school construction, including school security measures, due to the lack of competitive bidding has been a concern of conservatives in the legislature. State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) and state Rep. Rob Brooks (R – Saukville) are authors of a bill (SB 236) to require competitive bidding for school projects.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) supported the call for a special session for school safety.
“I’m pleased that Governor Walker called a special session and appreciate that he and his staff worked with legislative leaders to bring forward a comprehensive package on school safety,” Vos said in a statement Thursday. “Assembly Republicans feel strongly that nothing is more important than the safety of our school children. Our chamber’s plan is to take up the legislation on the floor of the Assembly next week in a one day special session.”
Senate Majority Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the Senate would consider school safety legislation in regular session next week.
“I am fully supportive of what the Governor announced and our proposal will closely align with the Governor’s objectives,” Fitzgerald said. “I look forward to ironing out details with the administration to deliver resources to schools to secure their facilities and bring peace of mind to parents.”
John Ashley, the executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), praised the governor’s plan and hoped it could pass in a bipartisan fashion. “The Wisconsin Association of School Boards applauds the school safety legislative package announced today by Gov. Walker that represents a significant state investment of $100 million to help keep our students safe,” Ashley said.
However, Democrats were unhappy that the governor’s proposal did not contain measures taking away the rights of gun owners. State Rep. Dana Wachs (D-LaCrosse) issued a statement that called for “weapons of war” to be banned.
“It does nothing to address the fact that a dangerous person can purchase a weapon of war designed to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time without facing a background check or a waiting period,” Wachs said. Wachs would create a ban on “assault weapons” including AR-15 rifles, limit the size of magazines for semi-automatic weapons, require background checks for private sales of weapons, and reinstate a 48-hour waiting period. Other Democrats had similar proposals.
No Democrats pointed directly to how any of their proposals would have prevented the school shooting in Parkland, FL.