House passes school safety bill amid gun protests

Greg Nash

The House on Wednesday easily passed a measure to strengthen school safety and security, a vote that comes one month after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. 

The bill does not include gun control measures despite the growing calls for action on that front. Students across the country staged walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence, with one of the protests taking place outside the Capitol.

Instead of gun control, Republicans have focused on enhancing school safety and investigating why law enforcement missed repeated warning signs about the suspected Parkland shooter.

House lawmakers voted 407-10 to approve a bill from Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a former sheriff. The measure would provide $50 million a year for a new federal grant program to train students, teachers and law enforcement on how to spot and report signs of gun violence. 

The bill was brought up under an expedited process that requires a two-thirds vote for passage.

“These appalling events are avoidable, but we must give schools the tools and resources they need,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Texas), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “There may not be one single answer to preventing all future violence in schools, but this effort is very much a part of the solution.” 

The STOP (Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing) School Violence Act would develop anonymous telephone and online systems where people could report threats of violence.

It also would authorize $25 million for schools to improve and harden their security, such as installing new locks, lights, metal detectors and panic buttons.

Appropriators would still need to provide money for the grant program in a separate spending bill. 

The bill has more than 75 co-sponsors, including Republican Whip Steve Scalise (La.), Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), whose district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of last month’s shooting.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has a companion bill in the Senate that has also attracted bipartisan support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he is “extremely interested” in passing a school safety bill along with a narrow background check bill, but he is still trying to figure out a path forward.

While House Democrats overwhelmingly supported the bill, they say the measure falls far short of what is needed to combat the scourge of mass shootings. They say it does little to address the potential for gun violence in other public places.

Some Democrats also took issue with the tip line created by the bill, raising concern that it does not have adequate due process and could disproportionately hurt minorities and students with disabilities.

“This is a good bill,” Deutch said, but “it will not solve our gun problem. It won’t ban bump stocks, or fix our background system, or get weapons of war off our streets.” 

Republicans insisted that this is only the first part of their response to the school shooting, though GOP leaders have not yet committed to putting any other bills on the House floor. 

“I’m not saying it’s enough,” said Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.). “We know this bill is one important step.”

A bill to expand background checks for gun purchase, which passed the House in December, stalled in the Senate because it was attached to a more controversial measure allowing people to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

Tags Cathy McMorris Rodgers Debbie Wasserman Schultz Hal Rogers John Rutherford Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch Parkland school shooting Steve Scalise Susan Brooks Ted Deutch
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