A day before the state Senate planned to take up its proposal to improve school safety, details of the legislation had yet to be made public.
As Senate Republicans scrambled Monday to reach agreement on a package, a coalition of students, Democratic lawmakers, religious groups, nonprofits and others said the $100 million school safety proposal from Gov. Scott Walker won’t address the root causes of gun violence and called on lawmakers to pass gun control legislation.
“We feel unsafe in our own schools and we will not stand for it anymore,” said Lydia Hester, a Madison East High School student and an organizer of the student protest last week calling for gun control and safer schools. “The students are out here begging for you to protect us.”
Walker, meanwhile, toured schools in Onalaska, Altoona and Marathon to tout his school safety plan, which doesn’t call for teachers to be armed in the classroom and doesn’t impose restrictions on gun ownership. He was joined by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Attorney General Brad Schimel.
Walker has called a special session to approve the package, and the Assembly is moving forward. But the Senate is planning to take up its version of school safety legislation Tuesday in regular session, raising questions about whether any bill will get passed.
The Assembly has proposed Walker’s package of special session bills that would create a $100 million grant program overseen by a new Office of School Safety within the Department of Justice. It also wants to require reporting of any threats of school violence and prompt parental notification of bullying incidents, update school safety plans and allow schools to share video feeds with local law enforcement.
The grant funds would be available to public and private schools for building safety upgrades or to subsidize armed security, with the funding phasing out over a three-year period.
The Assembly Education Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the six bills Tuesday and then a vote on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said Senate Republicans are working on their own plan that “will closely align with the governor’s objectives” and on Monday morning said he expects to take up a proposal Tuesday. But as of late Monday that proposal had yet to be released.
“Sen. Fitzgerald is spending today talking to caucus members, and Senate Republicans plan to caucus (Tuesday) at 10 a.m.,” Fitzgerald spokesman Dan Romportl said. “That’s all I have for now.”
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards is supportive of Walker’s proposals, but lobbyist Dan Rossmiller said providing funding to private schools could be problematic.
“While all children deserve to be safe and secure in their schools regardless of sector, public school buildings are public buildings. Private school buildings are not,” Rossmiller said. “We ought to think very carefully about what kinds of public investments we should be making in privately owned buildings and what kinds of precedents those decisions will set.”
The Senate is also scheduled to take up a number of other high-profile issues that had yet to be resolved. Romportl said discussion was ongoing Monday on what to do with proposals to close the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison, provide a $100-per-child tax rebate and offer an enhanced tax credit package to Kimberly-Clark in the wake of the company’s decision to close two plants and lay off 600 workers.
Advocates call for stronger measures
Walker’s proposal doesn’t include any gun regulation measures, which Democrats, students and various groups are pressing for in the wake of last month’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 dead.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said at a Capitol press conference Monday that the measures being offered by Walker are “inadequate.” Taylor said some of Walker’s proposals might pass with bipartisan support, but more needs to be done.
“I don’t think the bills get to the root of the problem,” Taylor said.
She was joined by representatives of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, YWCA Madison, state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Wisconsin Council of Churches and Hester.
The group is calling for universal background checks and reinstatement of a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases, allowing family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone found to be a threat, prohibiting those convicted of a violent misdemeanor from possessing a firearm for 10 years, limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds and banning the devices known as bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic weapons to be fired more rapidly.
They support state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers’ call for $50 million to treat mental and behavioral health and to address violence prevention in schools. They don’t favor school safety grants, preferring instead to allow districts to exceed state-imposed property tax caps to pay for school safety-related expenses, which would cost $85 million a year. Evers is among nine main Democratic candidates seeking the nomination to challenge Walker in November.
Hester, a sophomore at East, said students don’t want schools to become fortresses with more armed security guards.