OLYMPIA – Washington state would spend $10 million over the next two years to protect schools as part of a construction proposal that moved quickly through the state Senate on Monday.
With references to the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the Senate unanimously approved spending $475 million on school construction over the next two years, with $10 million of it going to make schools safer.
Republicans said the school construction package was a sign they were meeting goals to move their priorities of education, smart budgeting and jobs. The accompanying Safe School Buildings bill has the added benefit of paying for ways to protect schools from an attacker and get police there faster if they are needed, said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup.
Democrats said the school safety measures were a good first start, but called for GOP support on bills they introduced Monday that take further steps to curb gun violence. The state needs better laws on firearms safety and more support for mental health services, said Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Seattle.
The Senate’s 24 Democrats signed on to a bill that calls for safe storage of firearms in homes with children, and 23 signed a bill that calls for background checks for private gun sales as well as those by licensed dealers. Other proposals would allow a person with mental health problems to voluntarily surrender a firearm to police, and expand the reasons a judge could deny gun possession to a person found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The bills were assigned to the Law and Justice Committee but don’t have a hearing date yet, which is typical for the day they are introduced.
The vote on money for bonds for school construction includes the possibility of projects all over the state. Typically the Legislature waits until near the end of the session, as details of the budget are being negotiated, to settle on that as part of a larger capital projects package.
State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said if the school bond package is approved sooner, the schools can start construction sooner, which means the jobs those projects will create will be available sooner.
The House must still take up the bill, and a final version requires Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.
Inserted in the construction bill, and ratified in a separate vote, is a requirement to spend $5 million to improve police response to school emergencies and another $5 million to build safety features into schools that would slow a person seeking to enter the building to harm students or teachers.
“There is no one size fits all” solution for the state’s many schools, Dammeier said. Districts should be able to make decisions on what they think best protects their students. But schools should be able to have the same kind of expedited alarm systems to summon police that banks have had for years, he added.
Both the construction bond bill and the Safe School Buildings bill passed 47-0.