School security became a priority Thursday for both Republicans and Democrats at the state Capitol, as leaders announced a nonpartisan task force of experts would examine how to make Oklahoma schools the safest in the nation.
“The events that happened last Friday impacted everybody,” Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said. “After what I saw on TV, I just wanted to go home, hug my children and be thankful for the precious children that we have … We want to make sure we're doing everything within our power to make sure that our schools are as safe as possible.”
A 20-year-old gunman walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and slaughtered 20 children and six adults Friday, sending the nation into a flurry of talk about gun control and how to make children safe in schools.
This week, Oklahoma lawmakers have proposed allowing teachers certified with law enforcement training to carry guns on campuses or allowing schools to issue bonds — by increasing local taxes — to hire additional security on campuses.
No single plan is being endorsed at the moment, said Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who will head the Oklahoma Commission on School Security, but rather it will be presented to a panel of experts.
Lamb and Bingman announced the commission Thursday alongside House Speaker-elect T.W. Shannon. Not attending the conference but supportive of the plan were Democratic leaders, Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage and House Minority Leader Scott Inman.
“We've agreed to work for safer and securer schools together and we want to make sure this is a nonpartisan issue,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
The plan is to address both school security and the mental health needs of the state.
Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday after a budget meeting that, in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, she will look at improving funding for mental health programs.
“I'm excited that the lieutenant governor, the speaker and the pro tem have formed an ad hoc group that's going to look at how we can make sure we're doing everything we can to keep our schools safe,” she said.
Lamb, a former special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, will lead the commission.