Gov. Scott Walker unveils school safety bills that wouldn’t limit guns

MADISON — Republican Gov. Scott Walker waded into the fierce debate over school shootings Thursday, unveiling a package of legislation that would commit $100 million to campus safety but not impose any gun restrictions or require that teachers arm themselves as some conservatives have proposed.

Pressure on politicians from statehouses to Congress to address school safety and gun control has been mounting since last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people. Students around the country walked out of class Wednesday morning to demand tighter gun restrictions.

About 3,000 students converged on the state Capitol in Madison, jamming the corridors outside Walker’s office. Walker wasn’t around during the protest — his office announced late Tuesday afternoon that he’d be in far northern Wisconsin on Wednesday for a bill signing. The governor, who faces re-election this year, had been working on the school safety package with Republican lawmakers for days but released it early Thursday morning.

He ordered the Legislature to take up the bills in a special session, likening the package to airport security upgrades following the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

“No child, parent, or teacher should ever have to feel unsafe in school,” Walker said in a news release announcing the legislation.

The bills’ prospects look dim in the state Senate, even though Walker worked with the chamber’s GOP members on the package. Democrats pounced on the legislation regardless, criticizing Walker for doing nothing to bolster gun control. The National Rifle Association has spent $3.5 million to help Walker since 2010. The organization contributed $12,500 directly to his campaign and spent the rest on independent efforts that supported him, according to government watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

“It’s disappointing to see Gov. Walker continue to ignore the pleas from Wisconsin students who want safe schools,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement. “For a plan that is supposed to be about gun safety, I don’t see anything in here that will keep deadly firearms out of the wrong hands.”

The legislation calls for the creation of a four-person Office of School Safety within the state Department of Justice. The office would work with police and schools to develop best practices for school safety and provide training and other resources to schools. Any training the office provides would have to include trauma-informed care principals, which call for recognizing that people have gone through different traumas in their lives.

The office also would administer $100 million in new grants that schools could use to cover building security improvements, training and campus police officers. The grant money could come out of general purpose tax revenue.

The bills also would require all mandatory child abuse reporters to report any threats of school violence. Mandatory abuse reporters include doctors, mental health care professionals, teachers and guidance counselors.

Parents or guardians would have to be notified within 48 hours of bullying incidents; current state law requires such notification but lays out no time frame. School safety plans would have to include emergency prevention and security plans for after-school activities. Schools would be permitted to share live surveillance streams with police without violating student privacy laws.

The governor also issued an executive order Thursday calling on the state Department of Administration to consult with schools and police on security upgrades and create new state contracts with suppliers that schools can use to procure safety equipment and services.

Walker developed the legislation in consultation with Republican leaders in both the Assembly and Senate. The Assembly finished its regular two-year session last month but Speaker Robin Vos said members would return to Madison to take up the school legislation in a one-day special session sometime next week.

The Senate is expected to address school safety on March 20, the last day of the chamber’s regular two-year session. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement the Senate will consider a plan that “closely aligns” with Walker’s proposals without entering special session. His spokesman didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking details of the Senate Republicans’ plan.

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) released the following statement on Gov. Walker’s call for a special session:

“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.

“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 Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) released the following statement:

“It’s disappointing to see Gov. Walker continue to ignore the pleas from Wisconsin students who want safe schools. For a plan that is supposed to be about gun safety, I don’t see anything in here that will keep deadly firearms out of the wrong hands. This plan doesn’t strengthen our background check system, it doesn’t give schools the flexibility to improve safety and it doesn’t stop domestic abusers from getting their hands on deadly firearms. Failing to address the most pressing gun safety issues facing our students, families and communities will only lead to more tragedies.”