In the wake of yet another school shooting, two Washington lawmakers have urged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special legislative session regarding school safety.
Following the school shooting Friday in Santa Fe, Texas — in which 10 people were killed — Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen both believe more legislative action is necessary before school begins in the fall.
“We can and should build on this year’s bipartisan work led by Sen. (Steve) O’Ban working with Senate Democrats, which resulted in a workgroup with diverse experiences to develop strategies to identify and intervene against potential perpetrators of mass shootings,” said Braun in a statement the day of the shooting. “While their reports are not due until December, I encourage the group to meet more frequently and share their recommendations by August, which would give the Legislature time to act this summer — before schools reopen this fall.”
On Monday afternoon, Braun told The Chronicle he believes the group should share its recommendations by as early as July.
“I think that’s the right time,” Braun said. “What I’m proposing is we work on real solutions we can agree on. We have to focus on simple items.”
Earlier this year, Braun proposed putting $500 million in the state bonding authority before voters. That money would go toward expanding mental health services in Washington. However, the proposal fell flat during the regular session.
“When you look at these travesties from around the country, most of the time it’s a mental health issue,” Braun said. “Instead of debating all the things we don’t agree on, let’s move forward with what we can.”
Walsh agrees that Washington lawmakers need a special session to protect students, but views securing campuses as a higher priority.
“I think it’s appropriate and the right response to what’s going on,” Walsh said. “Braun’s focus is a little more broad than mine. My focus is on securing the actual campuses.”
Walsh believes there are three things that will make schools safer — fully funding the state’s School Resource Officer program, encouraging districts to use Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and allowing teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons.
“When we talk about arming teachers, there is a lot of hysterical reaction to this and people say it forces people to carry guns,” Walsh said. “No one would be required to carry a gun.”
Chehalis School District Superintendent Ed Rothlin said he does not support arming educators, but noted that Chehalis has an armed school resource officer.
“I think trained professionals, like our retired state patrolman, is fine, but you’ll have a difficult time convincing me it would make sense to have teachers and administrators carrying weapons,” Rothlin said.
Rothlin said mental health counseling, changing students’ mindsets about telling adults their concerns about a fellow student’s behavior and training for staff are higher priorities to him than arming teachers and staff.
“We have mental health counselors and we are one of the few districts,” Rothlin said. “They are very good at working with the students and families. I know when it comes to other surrounding schools, I’ve had these discussions with other superintendents and they don’t have the ability to hire for that need. It’s a conversation we have had many times.”
Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said he did not currently have enough details to say if he would support a special session.
“I agree mental health is a big deal,” DeBolt said. “I run the capital budget and we have spent more money in the last four years than we have spent in the last ten years on mental health. With some of the co-occurring disorders that we have in our culture right now, mental health is more important than ever, so I welcome the dialogue around that. I do think that we need earmarked money for mental health. We always get told that the most vulnerable get cut first and I don’t like that. So it would be good to do the right thing to help these people.”
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said he does not want to go into special session unless there is a “firm proposal and agreement” for what the legislature wants to accomplish.
Senator Dean Takko, D-Longview, said Braun’s idea of a bond “isn’t a bad idea.” However, he is skeptical the legislature could accomplish what it needs to in a special session.
“Well, I don’t really have a problem with (going into special session),” Takko said. “But I’m a little suspect if we could get in there and get it done in a day, which is probably what we should do or we get into other issues or drag this one on. When we start talking about school safety, it shifts to guns and that’s where it falls apart.”
Editor’s Note: Richard DeBolt is a part-time marketing consultant for Lafromboise Communications, the parent company of The Chronicle.