April 4, 2013 10:34:13 AM
JACKSON -- Lawmakers are leaving open the possibility that Mississippi teachers could bear arms in their classrooms.
The House and Senate passed Senate Bill 2659 Wednesday. The bill originally was designed only to grant money for schools to hire school resource officers. But some language from House Bill 958, which would allow teachers to be armed with the approval of state agencies, was added back to the bill in negotiations between the House and Senate.
The bill goes next to Gov. Phil Bryant. It wasn't immediately known whether the governor supports the measure.
Senate Bill 2659 creates a $5 million grant program, offering $10,000 grants that school districts could use to help pay for law enforcement officers to police around schools. But the added language allows financially strapped schools to develop their own security plans. The change does not explicitly state that such plans would include arming teachers, but it doesn't prohibit it either.
"No teachers or principals will be carrying weapons, is that correct?" asked Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, in House debate before members approved it 79-36.
"It doesn't speak to that," said Rep. Jeff Guice, R-Ocean Springs.
But Guice went on to say that the state Department of Education and Department of Public Safety could approve a security plan including teachers with guns.
"If it is approved by the state Board of Education and DPS, it could be possible," Guice said.
There was no discussion of the bill in the Senate Wednesday before it passed with little dissent.
"Frankly there's so much terrible legislation going through about public schools, I can't keep up with all of it," Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said after the vote.
The bill would also allow the grant program to pay for training for others, besides full-time guards for districts opting out.
Civil rights groups expressed their opposition to both sections of the bill during a press conference last week. They said school resource officers tend to arrest students for misconduct that would usually be addressed with suspension or detention, and that arming teachers was unsafe for both students and staff.
The armed guards approach was favored by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves as a response to last year's Newtown, Conn., school shootings, while some House members favored arming school employees directly.
Reeves said in a statement the program "allows communities the option to participate and keep students safe with properly trained officers."