A raft of legislation on school security filed after the Newtown, Conn., shooting tragedy was whittled down to one “consensus bill” last week after negotiations between Gov. Bill Haslam and several key legislators, but a conflict quickly developed between the House and Senate.
Under the proposal, school districts would be authorized to hire retired law enforcement officers who could carry guns in schools. Only people who have gone through regular law enforcement training, hold a handgun carry permit and take an additional 40-hour course in “school policing” would qualify.
“These are not just people we’re handing out guns to,” said Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, the House sponsor of the bill. “These are seasoned, veteran officers.”
Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, the Senate sponsor, described it as an option for “top-quality security at a real good price.” Retired officers are likely to sign up for such work for very modest wages, he said.
Haslam has included $34 million in his proposed budget for the coming year for distribution to schools statewide for security improvements. A school could use its share of that money to hire the officers if local school officials choose, an administration spokeswoman said, though it can also be used for other purposes such as equipment or building renovations.
The bill (SB570, as amended) touched off lengthy debate in the House Education Subcommittee and the Senate Education Committee in its initial airing. Both approved the measure, but in different form.
As drafted, the “consensus bill” — a term used by Niceley and Watson — grants immunity to schools for any damages or injuries caused by a retained security officer.
The House panel, however, stripped that provision from the bill at the urging of Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, who cited an incident in New York wherein a security officer’s gun accidentally discharged and hit a 5-year-old student. School systems carry insurance for such things, he said, and granting them immunity could “leave a child out in the cold” after being gravely and permanently injured.
Critics of the move said that without immunity schools would pay higher insurance premiums, and the cost would prevent many from hiring new security officers. But Stewart’s motion prevailed.
The immunity issue was not mentioned in the Senate committee debate, and the provision remained intact. Instead, senators argued over the bill’s effectiveness.
Niceley, who after the Newtown shootings initially proposed requiring a security officer in every school, defended the proposal that he said was worked out during “three or four weeks of back and forth with the governor.”
“This is as good as anything we can pass this year,” Niceley said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would allow school districts to hire retired law enforcement officers for security advanced in the Legislature on Wednesday after being approved by the governor.
The legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland passed the House Civil Justice Committee on a voice vote before being approved 5-2 by the Senate Education Committee.
The proposal is different from the original version, which would have allowed school teachers and faculty with handgun carry permits to be armed at school. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he’s against such a proposal and others like it being considered this session.
However, a representative from the governor’s office said Wednesday that the governor is OK with the bill that’s advancing.
The proposal would allow schools to hire retired law enforcement officers after they meet certain requirements, such as completing a school policing course. Total raining could require over 400 hours.
State Rep. Rick Womick has reluctantly revealed that a previously secret plan is in place to allow the Tennessee General Assembly to continue functioning in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
Despite Womick’s understandable hesitancy to make public plans that could be exploited by those plotting disruption of legislative activities, he did so in trying — albeit unsuccessfully — to pass a bill with the goal of preventing such things and preparing for them should they occur. And many of us breathed a sigh of relief in learning that there’s at least a plan to assure that our legislators will be able to continue their vital tasks even if an electromagnetic pulse bomb (EMB) disables their ability to exchange text messages with lobbyists via cellphone.
“This is something I don’t like to put out publicly,” Womick told the House State Government Subcommittee. “There are provisions in place (in the event of an attack) where each one of you will be contacted and taken to an off-site location, in the state of Tennessee, and continue to conduct business. With the governor.”
Womick’s comments came as he pushed for passage of HB1327, which calls on the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security to do background checks and then grant security clearances to 10 select members of the Legislature assigned to a special Security Committee.
In remarks to a state House subcommittee, Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, said that an electromagnetic pulse bomb went off near Shelbyville about two years ago. The comment came in urging support for his bill (HB1327) to require that the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security provide background checks and security clearances for ten legislators serving on a special security committee. Blogger Jeff Woods reports that he has checked around with Shelbyville officials and the local newspaper – which, according to Womick, reported on the EPB in a very small story – in an attempt to verify the Womick claim. No one had heard of such an incident.
His conclusion: Yes, possibly Womick is confused. He has been known to, ahem, stretch the truth from time to time. He might be talking nonsense, just another tin foil-wrapped nutjob spinning bizarre paranoid fantasies. On the other hand, just because no one will admit that it happened doesn’t mean it didn’t. Think about it. If it did happen, would the Powers that Be talk about it? Of course not. Too many people have never heard of this E-bomb explosion. Doesn’t that make you suspicious? The plot thickens.
Knox County Schools’ chief security officer admitted Friday that he twice went on trips with the president of a security system firm under fire for shoddy workmanship, reports the News Sentinel. Chief Security Officer Steve Griffin initially denied in an interview Friday afternoon — at which School Superintendent Jim McIntyre was present — that he had ever traveled with Mike Walker, who is president of Professional Security Consultants and Design.
Griffin said the pair had lunched together a few times after Walker and his firm were awarded a contract to install and monitor school security systems for Knox County schools but denied they were pals or the relationship unduly influenced his push to have that same firm carry out work that is now the subject of a lawsuit.
“I know him,” Griffin said. “I didn’t know him until he started working in the schools.” An hour later, Griffin phoned the News Sentinel and said, “I have a confession.”
Griffin then admitted that he had traveled with Walker to a NASCAR race in Bristol for which Walker provided the tickets. He also said the pair traveled together to Fentress County for a “deer camp.”
See also related story on Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett pushing for an audit of the school security system.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam told participants in a school safety summit on Tuesday that the state is committed to doing what it can to provide better security at Tennessee schools.
The event was organized to discuss current safety resources and practices as well as to hear from leading state and national experts on safety, law enforcement and mental health.
The Republican governor told officials from state agencies and representatives from school districts across the state that he hopes the summit will provide “practical things that we can do.”
“Our job is to listen and come up with a strategic plan,” Haslam said of state officials. “We’re committed to working alongside of you.”
Beginning this spring, Tennesseans who apply for or renew driver’s licenses also are going to have their identities checked, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Customers at driver service centers or county clerks’ offices will leave with paper “interim” licenses. Meanwhile, the state will take a week to run their pictures through photo-recognition technology and compare them against 12 million images in a database.
“It is compared to many other faces to make sure you are who you say you are,” said Lori Bullard, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. “It has a measure of security.”
Bullard said the new process and extra security checks are meant to clamp down on fraud and identity theft. As another layer of security, drivers will receive their laminated plastic permanent driver’s licenses by mail instead of at the counter of a driver service center. That helps verify where the applicant lives, Bullard explained.
The new process, called “central issuance,” is being piloted at the Hamilton County Clerk’s Office, which has been authorized to replace and renew driver’s licenses since 2004. Equipment for the process was installed Thursday.
….The change is part of a five-year effort to restructure the license application process since Congress passed the Real ID Act — a 2005 law requiring stricter, uniform requirements for issuing driver’s licenses across the nation.
All states were required to be compliance with the law by Jan. 15. Tennessee had already bought equipment to implement Real ID and had begun conducting background checks for all clerks involved in issuing licenses.
But in December, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security once again extended the deadline — though it has not released a new schedule. Only 13 states, including Tennessee and Georgia, have met the standards of the law, according to The Associated Press, while others have balked at the costs to come into compliance.
Officials are rolling out new security measures at the state Capitol this year, including machines that can scan identification cards, more cameras and permanent guard stations at each public entrance, observes The Tennessean. Similar measures are being implemented at adjoining Legislative Plaza, where lawmakers have their committee meetings. Tighter security comes as state and national lawmakers prepare to debate the place of firearms in workplaces and schools. It also comes as the nation reacts to last year’s shootings in Connecticut, Oregon and Colorado.
But state officials deny there is a direct connection.
“It wasn’t a reaction to any one particular incident,” said state Comptroller Justin Wilson, a member of the State Building Commission, which signed off on the improvements.
“There’s just a need for greater security.”
The improvements are part of a larger renovation of the Capitol. Completed in December, the $15.7 million project mainly restored the Civil War-era building’s interior and upgraded the heating and cooling system. As planning for the project got under way, the Department of Safety and the Department of General Services recommended beefing up security.
The State Building Commission, most of whose members have offices in the Capitol, signed off on the improvements in late 2011. The decision came before the latest round of shootings, but it took place months after the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a political rally in Arizona. Occupy Nashville protesters were camped outside at the time.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Workers are putting the finishing touches on a renovation of the state Capitol as they prepare to re-open the 153-year-old building later this month.
The nearly $16 million project largely focused on upgrading electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems. Parts of the building also got new carpets, paint and security upgrades.
The governor, executive staff, constitutional officers and legislative workers are in the process of moving back into the building that has been closed since May. The public will be able to gain entry on Dec. 17.
Visitors will now have to have their driver’s licenses scanned upon entry to the building, and a more extensive internal and external video surveillance system has been installed.
Officials declined to explain details or the rationale for the enhanced security.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats harshly scolded the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday for a security breach at the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in which three peace activists evaded guards and cut through fencing to infiltrate the facility’s highest-security area, reports Michael Collins. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., called the break-in appalling:
“Not only did you have a security breach,” she said, “you had a breach of public trust.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the Y-12 infiltration was “a wake-up call if ever there was one.”
The July 28 security breach at the Oak Ridge plant, where warhead parts are manufactured and the nation’s stockpile of bomb-grade uranium is stored, dominated a congressional hearing Wednesday on safety and security at the nation’s nuclear facilities.
Lawmakers said they were astounded that three pacifists, including an 82-year-old nun, managed to cut through several layers of fencing and spray-paint messages, hang banners and pour human blood on the site.