Gov. Mary Fallin signed four bills into law Tuesday that are intended to keep Oklahoma students safe while work continues to provide funding for mental health training for campus workers and a new security tip line.
The legislation comes from recommendations made by the Oklahoma Commission on School Security, which was formed as a result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre in December. Twenty children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults were shot and killed by a disturbed man in Newtown, Conn.
“The state of Oklahoma has a duty to do everything we can to keep our children safe,” Fallin said during a bill-signing ceremony. “The bills signed into law today will ensure that schools are well-prepared for emergencies of all kinds. They'll also help to provide more training and better coordination between law enforcement and education professionals. These measures could help to save lives.”
The bills create an Oklahoma School Security Institute under the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security; require more safety drills; require schools to report discovery of firearms in school to law officers; and require schools and institutes of higher learning to provide annually updated plans for protecting students, faculty and visitors from disasters and emergencies.
Other recommendations call for establishing a mental health first-aid training pilot program and setting up a statewide school security tip line.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who headed the 22-member security commission, said both items require funding and will be part of the legislative appropriation process. Discussions are ongoing about the cost of the pilot program.
The commission was made up of experts from law enforcement, mental health and education, as well as parents and first responders.
All four bills received unanimous approval in the Senate and received at least 85 votes in the 101-member House of Representatives.
“As a parent, there's nothing more special than our children,” said Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “When parents send their children off to school, they expect a safe, clean environment for our children at school. Teachers are there to teach.”
At the end of each school day, “we want to make sure those kids are getting off that bus and coming back home,” he said.
Lamb said some schools may already be doing some of the practices outlined in the four bills, but not all of them are.
The Oklahoma School Security Institute will be coordinating how schools are complying with the legislation, he said.
“That will be a resource center of best practices to provide opportunity, education, training and effectiveness to our schools because not all schools are the same,” he said.
Lamb said the commission was careful not to pass on unfunded mandates to schools.