A packed committee room greeted the House Insurance Committee early this morning as they took up HB 2798, a bill essentially forcing school districts to arm teachers as the legislative response repeated mass shootings in schools, the Parkland Student Movement and the March for Our Lives held this past weekend.
The bill popped up unexpectedly late last week and Friday afternoon was scheduled for a hearing this morning.
Proponents of the bill started their testimony first. Bill sponsor, Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) went first followed by Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover). You’ll remember Masterson put an amendment on another firearms bill that would allow the carrying sharpened throwing stars in our schools. Those are currently prohibited but Masterson’s nephew was suspended for bringing one to school. His amendment would allow them in school unless you intended to use it to harm someone. So I guess you could ask as kids come in…
Anyway, because, as the proponents were fond of saying today, “There’s nothing we can do stop mass shootings in our schools,” they want to arm teachers. Let the teacher get her kids safe and quiet, then just pull out a gun and go in search of the shooter is apparently the solution to gun violence in schools.
Other proponents were the Kansas Rifle Association (our state NRA), a high school teacher and Iraq war veteran from Wichita, and a gun range owner/former security officer.
Opponents started with KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti followed by Shawnee Mission Interim Superintendent Rick Atha, David Smith from KCK Public Schools, Olathe Public Education Network, The Mainstream Coalition, Moms Demand Action, Kansas Interfaith Action, a mother who spent time in lockdown at school with her kindergartener during a false alarm, a mom and attorney from KCK (pointing out many legal flaws in the proponents arguements), two parents from Education First Shawnee Mission, a parent from Blue Valley Schools, a school secretary from Lawrence, and a woman whose daughter was a victim of gun violence and is now raising her grandchildren. You can view a segment of today’s testimony as posted by Loud Light- facebook https://www.facebook.com/BeALoudLight/ – (including that by KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti beginning at 09:01 below).
In addition, there were more than 300 pages of written testimony in opposition to the bill.
It is clear that there is overwhelming opposition to this bill. We will continue to watch this bill to see if Chairman Vickrey intends to work the bill and attempt to send it to the full House. If you have not yet weighed in on this bill with the members of the House Insurance Committee and your own legislator, we would urge you to do so now.
More on School Safety
Later, in the full House, debate was taken up on HB 2773, the safe and secure schools act.
This bill does some good. It sets standards for school security, it sets standards for school safety plans, it requires school districts to create school safety plans and it provides $5 million in matching grants for school security upgrades. It also allows school districts to offer students firearm safety training so they know what to do should they encounter a weapon.
While KNEA supported this bill in a hearing, we were clear to state that it does very little to address the problem of violence in our society and shootings in our schools. It is a mere band-aid on a wound from an assault rifle. But it is a step in the right direction.
A number of amendments were offered on the bill on the House floor today that were supported by KNEA but did not pass. One was an amendment by Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) who tried to strip out reference to the NRA and the Eddie Eagle program relying instead on Kansans to make decisions for Kansans. The amendment failed on a vote of 49 to 75.
An amendment by Rep. Henry Helgerson (R-Wichita) would have provided for ongoing funding or school security improvements through fees on firearms and ammunition – $1.00 per gun purchase and 1 cent per bullet purchase. As the bill is, funding is $5 million total and ends after one year. The Helgerson amendment failed on a vote of 35 to 88.
Rep. Brett Parker offered an amendment to provide $100,000 to survey school employees about what they would like to have to address the issue and to repeal the law that currently allows school districts to let teachers carry firearms in classrooms. (No districts do.) The amendment was divided into two parts. A vote on the funding for the survey failed on a vote of 50 to 72.
Most interesting to us was the debate on the second part, repealing the ability of school boards to allow concealed carry on school campuses. Proponents of guns in classrooms like Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) or Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) argued in favor of the sanctity of “local control.” Of course, whenever there is a vote on granting institutions of higher education or municipalities local control over gun issues, they argue the critical importance of state mandates. So, if local control results in more guns – YES. If local control resulted in fewer guns – NO. This is the very definition of hypocrisy. This amendment failed on a vote of 44 to 79.
The bill was advanced to a final action vote which will come tomorrow.
Over in the Senate
The full Senate debated three bills and advanced all three to final action.
The first bill was Sub for HB 2602 establishing the dyslexia task force. This bill, strongly supported by KNEA was advanced on a voice vote with little discussion.
Next (although much later) was SB 352, a bill dealing with transportation funding. This bill moves the funding of school transportation from the highway department to the state general fund and then establishes a new “curve of best fit” (codifying what the state department of education has been doing for years). This bill also generated little discussion and was advanced on a voice vote.
The third bill was SB 422 which deals with equity issues in the Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling.
SB 422 would repeal two provisions of SB 19 – the 10% at-risk floor and the expansion of capital outlay expenditures as called for in the Court ruling.
Additionally, it would use the current year to determine LOB state aid while requiring districts to notify the state of an intent to raise LOB by March 15. It would also allow the protest petition process for any increases in LOB over 30% and repeal any high LOB that had not been subject to an election (none that we know of).
There was an attempt by Sen. Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) to repeal the notice requirement since it comes before the Legislature sets budgets for the coming year, but that effort failed.
Senator Hensley (D-Topeka) then offered an amendment to deal with adequacy by proposing a $200 million increase in funding each year for three years as called for by the State Board of Education. The amendment failed on a vote of 10 to 28 with all nine Democrats and Independent John Doll (I-Garden City) voting YES.
A subsequent Hensley amendment would raise funding by $151 million in 2018-19, and $150 million in 2019-20 and 2020-21 for a total of $451 million (the “maintain the status quo” figure in the new cost study). That amendment failed on a vote of 10-26 again with Independent John Doll joining the Democrats in support.
The bill was then advanced to final action.