A week after the Senate derailed a bill that would have allowed trained Oklahoma public school teachers to bring handguns to schools, the House of Representatives easily passed and sent to the governor Thursday four bills that came from the findings of a special task force on school safety.
The four bills, containing some of the recommendations of the Oklahoma Commission on School Safety, each received at least 85 votes in the 101-member House. Several members questioned the cost and whether some measures already were in practice.
The bills, which received unanimous approval last month in the Senate, now go to Gov. Mary Fallin, who has a general policy of not commenting on legislation until she has read the final version.
“I've expressed my support in the recommendations that the commission has proposed,” she said Thursday. “I felt that the recommendations were very good, but it's going to have to go through the process of reviewing the bill.”
The commission 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, Adam Lanza, in Newtown, Conn.
The 22-member commission was headed by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and made up of experts from law enforcement, mental health and education, as well as parents and first responders.
Sen. John Ford, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said last week his panel would not hear House Bill 1062 this session; it was the only piece of legislation remaining this year that would have allowed for arming public school teachers or administrators.
Ford, R-Bartlesville, said he preferred the recommendations from the Oklahoma Commission on School Safety. Recommendations included requiring safety drills, the reporting of firearms to local law enforcement and forming an Oklahoma School Security Institute under the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.
The most expensive element of the package would be the institute, which Lamb earlier said would cost about $500,000 its first year. It is to act as a hub of information and resources related to school security and training.
Reps. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, and Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, questioned the cost of the institute.
Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said he thought the Office of Homeland Security already has the authority to work with public schools on security issues.
“This looks purely like a political statement,” Morrissette said.
Creating the institute was authorized in Senate Bill 257, which the House passed 92-2.
The House voted 85-9 to pass SB 259, which would require school authorities to immediately report to law officers when a firearm is discovered on a student who is not a minor or an adult who isn't authorized to possess a firearm on school property. In those cases, the weapon is to be turned over to law officers.
SB 256, which would require school districts to conduct lockdown drills in addition to fire, intruder and tornado emergency bills, passed 94-1.
The House also passed SB 258, which would create a deadline of Nov. 1 by which schools and institutes of higher learning are to provide annually updated plans for protecting students, faculty and visitors from disasters and emergencies. It passed 97-0.
Lawmakers approved a clause to all four bills that would make them take effect as soon as the governor signs them.
“With the passage of these four measures, it is my hope that we're doing right by our children to ensure they have a safe and secure environment in which to learn and grow,” said House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton. “It is vital to protect our children properly, and I believe these bills will improve the safety environment of our schools.”
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said: “Newtown was a sobering reminder to us all — we cannot prevent every unspeakable and horrific act in this world. What we can do is be proactive and forward-thinking.”