School Security Bill Advancing in Legislature

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

NASHVILLE (AP) – Proponents of a measure that allows school districts to hire individuals with prior law enforcement experience say it's a needed option for financially strapped schools.

The legislation passed the House Education Committee on a voice vote Tuesday, and the companion bill was later approved 6-2 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposal would allow schools to hire retired law enforcement officers after they meet certain requirements, such as completing a 40-hour school security course.

Police officers are typically required to have about 400 hours of training.

Jim Wrye, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said there are about 200 criminal science teachers in Tennessee public schools who are former police officers.

"It opens up a lot of opportunities for retired deputies and police officers to serve as school resource officers," Wrye said.

Sen. Mike Bell agreed, noting that many schools can't afford to hire additional school resource officers.

"They're giving our local schools, especially our rural schools, who do not have the financial means to hire SROs a way to have a trained licensed certified person carry a firearm to protect children," said the Riceville Republican.

However, Democratic Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson said he'd like to see the governor's budget provide funding to put school resource officers in each school.

"If it's really a priority, then let's put the money in to hire them for every school," he said.

Haslam has included $34 million in his budget for local government officials to use on their priorities. Sponsors have said they expect much of the money to go toward security in the wake of the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Wrye said TEA would like to see school resource officers at every school, but "we know that it's financially impossible at this moment."

A representative from the governor's office has said Haslam is OK with the legislation.

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