2018-03-09 / Community News

Maine lawmakers reviewing school safety

By Amy Volk Special to the Leader

What happened in Florida two weeks ago was horrific. As details emerge, we realize that numerous systems failed, sometimes repeatedly and on many levels. It is truly a tragedy and one that clearly could have and should have been prevented.

I would like to think that Maine communities are more intimate and our law enforcement typically more pro-active, but the reality is that it could happen here.

The thought terrifies me.

Good policy, however, is born from facts, reason and thought, not fear. This week we lawmakers began addressing the incredibly important issue of school safety as the Legislative Council, a bipartisan group comprised of leadership from both the House and the Senate, considered a number of after deadline proposals.

The Legislative Council reviews all bills submitted during the second year of session and determines which receive a hearing.

All new bills heard in the short session must be either budget-related or an emergency.

While there was broad disagreement among the council on which bills should be considered, especially given the limited amount of time left in the session, some bills will advance.

The first is LR 2937, “An Act to Strengthen School Security.”

This bill, which received unanimous support, would provide a $20 million bond that school districts can apply for to make security upgrades to their facilities.

Another school security bill that passed unanimously was LR 2949, “An Act to Include Security Installations and Upgrades in Maine’s School Revolving Renovation Fund.”

This bill would stipulate that within this existing fund, security projects receive top funding priority.

We also advanced a number of mental health bills including LR 2946, “An Act to Enhance and Increase the Availability of Mental Health Providers in Maine” and LR 2947, “An Act To Increase Educator, Student, Parent and Community Awareness of Mental Health Issues That May Lead to Harm of a Person or Oneself.”

A bill to create a community protection order, LR 2943, also received a green light.

While the details still need to be ironed out, this bill would allow family members to ask a judge to issue a temporary order to remove firearms from people who may be suffering from a mental illness episode or if they have shown signs of increased violence.

A comparable bill has failed in the past because of concerns around due process and possible abuse; however other states have similar laws which appear to be working.

While each of these initiatives represents only a piece of the puzzle, I believe they form a path forward that will honor Maine’s record of responsible firearm ownership, yet recognize that we must find a way to keep our children secure at school.

We in Maine enjoy the status of the safest state in the nation, but the truth is that a tragedy such as Parkland can happen anywhere. As a member of legislative leadership and a mother of four, including one still in school and two in college, I take this issue very seriously.

Preventing gun violence is not as simple as many would have you believe. It is not an issue with a single cause and no single solution will fix it.

I am not interested in making headlines or capitalizing on emotions. I want solutions that will work in our Second Amendment-prizing state that truly fit with our heritage.

As these bills advance to committees for consideration, please keep in mind that no one, regardless of their background or views, wants to see children harmed.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High were failed.

The parents who entrusted their children to the school’s care were failed. And, yes, the young man who committed this atrocity was failed.

We can do better and I hope that we will.

Closing the holes in our system is a team effort, not only at the State House but also in our homes, our schools, our places of worship and our communities.

Amy Volk is serving her second term in the Maine Senate and represents the people of Senate District 30 which includes Gorham and parts of Scarborough and Buxton. She is the Chair of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee and is also a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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