Lawmakers mull different ways to protect schools

From the desk of Columbian intern Lucas Wiseman:

OLYMPIA — A bill by Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, that could lead to armed teachers at school isn’t the only school safety proposal being heard by Washington legislators, who are considering policy responses to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Senate Bill 5197, sponsored by Bruce Dammier, R-Puyallup, would mandate that by 2014, schools must have a panic alarm system that would get officers quickly to schools that are experiencing a threat.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said the bill also allocates $10 million for retrofitting locks on entrances to schools.

Additionally, it mandates that all new construction for schools include a “person trap” or buffer zone that does not immediately admit a person into the school. Schools also would beef up security around the perimeter of schools.

On Monday, the bill passed unanimously on the Senate floor 47-0, with two senators excused from voting.

Rivers said she believes multiple steps need to be taken to improve school safety.

“I don’t think there’s only one answer,” she said. “If I’m up in a rural county and I’m 20 minutes from the police station, all the silent alarms in the world aren’t going to make a difference to me.”

Pike’s bill would give school districts the ability to allow trained teachers to carry firearms at school. Rivers said Pike’s proposal could be part of the solution for improving safety.

“If (Pike) wants to restore local control, then I support that,” Rivers said. “It’s just about options.”

Pike and Rivers both said that school districts should be able to make their own choices regarding safety.

Pike’s House Bill 1788 is faced with the Legislature’s Feb. 22 cutoff date, which could kill the bill if it is not sent out of committee.

The bill is not currently scheduled for a committee hearing.

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