Even as legislators head into their final weeks of session, new gun legislation and school safety measures continue to roll out in Olympia.
Following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, Senator Frockt introduced a bill to raise the minimum age to purchase semiautomatic rifles and create an anonymous reporting program in schools. The bill was voted out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee with a “do pass” recommendation on Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, Senator Fortunato announced a new bill to create an “active shooter response training program” in public schools. The proposed voluntary training program would include firearms training and conflict de-escalation training for teachers, school employees, and school district volunteers.
The bill specifies that the training program would be created by the criminal justice training program. However, in a press conference on Wednesday, Fortunato said the commission declined to attend the media event due to “political pressure.” Instead, Fortunato introduced Jon Ladines, the founder and owner of Force Dynamics Security Consulting, who agreed to allow his active shooter training program to be used statewide.
Ladines’s training program teaches both armed and unarmed responses to active shooter scenarios. He said the goal of his program is to train all members of school staff on how to act during the “gap time” – the time between when an active shooter opens fire and when the police arrive.
“This is not something we are actively seeking, for every school to be armed. I don’t think every school has the capability to be armed. But I do think that some have the personnel,” said Ladines.
Ladines’s program is currently in use in the Toppenish School District where John Cerna, Superintendent of the Toppenish School District, says 19 people are currently armed on their school campuses.
“I think it’s worked in Toppenish. I haven’t had any pushback; our board still supports what we’re doing. As a matter of fact, I’ve had teachers come ask me to be part of our armed forces,” said Cerna. “We have an armed presence in every one of our buildings.”
While addressing the reporters in the room, Fortunato said,
“When you came in today, you passed armed security people. So, we are currently protected by armed security people in this building. And we protect our children, the most precious thing that we have, with a sign that says ‘Gun Free Zone’.”
“This will save lives. If you implement this program tomorrow afternoon, I believe our schools will be safer.”
During the press conference, Senator Barbara Bailey also discussed new legislation that would increase access to mental health counselors in public and private schools. Specifically, the bill would require every k-12 school to have at least one mental health counselor working on site. The bill also says that these counselors may observe specific classrooms at the request of teachers or students.
“We need to make sure that our kids are getting the opportunity to talk to somebody, to have the ability to go somewhere that they feel safe when they are having difficulties,” said Bailey.
Both Fortunato’s and Bailey’s bills have been referred to committee, but neither have a public hearing scheduled.