OAN Roy Francis
UPDATED 2:05 PM – Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Governor Bill Lee has announced additional actions and details that are aimed at strengthening safety across public and private schools in the state of Tennessee.
The new plan includes enhanced legislation and funding which would place security guards at schools, and provide additional aid, and mental health resources for Tennesseans.
The plan, introduced by Lee (R-Tenn.), includes directing $140 million towards a School Resource Officer grant to hire security guards in every public school across the state. The plan also includes $30 million to expand Tennessee’s homeland security network, and 122 agents serving students at public and private schools. It would also allocate $20 million for public school security, $7 million for private schools, and $8 million for school based behavioral health liaisons.
“There is nothing more important than our students safely returning home each day,” Lee said. “As Tennessee grieves the tragic loss of six precious lives in the Covenant shooting, we are taking additional actions to significantly boost safety measures at every school with highly trained guards, physical security enhancements and mental health resources. I thank Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, and members of the General Assembly for their partnership as we pursue thoughtful, practical solutions to protect Tennessee students and teachers.”
The governor outlined his proposal in a conference room one week after the tragic shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville which resulted in the deaths of six people, three children and three faculty members.
“These are practical, thoughtful solutions that we can all agree upon,” said Gov. Lee, during the news conference.
The governor also addressed the protests currently taking place in his state over the issue of gun laws.
“A person who is a threat to themselves or a threat to others should not have access to weapons. To the degree that we can do that, protecting the constitutional rights of our people at the same time — including that person — the way we do that together is the way forward,” said Gov. Lee. “I’m looking for answers that separate dangerous people from firearms and protect constitutional rights. That is very important that we do that, whatever it’s called, that’s what it should accomplish. I’m standing here saying that’s what we should do going forward.”
Lee was surrounded mainly by Republican lawmakers aside from the lone Democrat, Representative Antonio Parkinson, who supported the school plan, but also called on stricter gun measures.
“This will be helpful to our schools which are soft targets, but we have a whole plethora of soft targets out there,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson. “Background checks is absolutely needed, cool off periods, we used to have cool off periods.”
Other precautions that the new plan implements are a multi-tiered accountability plan to ensure exterior school doors are locked while students are present. It also requires that guards are held to a high standard, and receive active shooter training before being hired at schools.
The plan would mandate that every school district establish a threat assessment team, and ensure that support services and behavioral health professionals are readily available to any student. It would also ensure that schools develop annual safety plans, which include school leaders and law enforcement to prepare for various emergencies that might happen.
The governor had made it a priority for him to pursue school safety since he was elected to office in 2019. In June 2021, he signed Executive Order 97 which implemented a statewide effort to improve school safety by raising collaboration among parents, schools, and local law enforcement in the state.
Some within the state legislature criticized the governor about his priorities. Representative John Ray Clemons (D-Tenn.), the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, criticized the governor accusing him of “political cowardice.” He said that placing armed guards at schools is “not a solution to the problem” and would only serve to “militarize” the schools and make the students feels “imprisoned.”
“It’s been a whole week since The Covenant School shooting, and Bill Lee has yet to utter the word ‘gun.’ This fact evidences a political cowardice that plagues our Capitol and threatens every community,” he said. “The need to put an armed security guard in every school is a result of the real problem. It is not a solution to the problem. I am appalled that Governor Lee would rather militarize our schools and make our children feel imprisoned in their own learning environment than reach across the aisle to pass common sense gun safety legislation.”
The Democrat went on to say that the priorities of the Democrats are “red flag laws” and “responsible gun ownership.”
“We, as Democrats, remain committed to pushing legislation such as ‘red flag laws’ and to encourage responsible gun ownership,” he said. “And we hope our Republican legislative colleagues will work with us on these efforts. Hopefully, they will demonstrate the courage that is so sorely lacking in the governor’s office.”
Tennessee Speaker of the House of Representatives Cameron Sexton (R-Tenn.) said that unless there is a mental health component to the situation, he considers red flag laws as just a gun confiscation law.
Sexton has also been calling for the expulsion of three Tennessee state Democrats after they had disrupted House floor proceedings in Nashville last Thursday while protesting for stricter gun laws.
Democrat Representatives Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson were all pulled from their committee assignments and are now facing a House vote from an overwhelming Republican majority on their expulsion.
“I want to make sure everybody knows this has nothing to do about the protest outside the House chamber or the protests outside the Capitol,” Sexton told Fox News. “This is about these three members’ actions on the House floor, how they shut us down, and how they led protests from the House chamber to those [people] in the balcony.”
The passing of the new school safety bill and the House proceedings have been taking pace while people were protesting at the state Capitol for stricter gun measures since the shooting at The Covenant School.
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