Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What does the General Assembly have to do with student Health & Safety?

Well, to begin, the real question should be "what DOESN'T the General Assembly have to do with student health & safety?".  After all it is the members of our House of Delegates and State Senate who decide which policies are important enough to consider and how they will vote in representation of "the people" of the State of Virginia.  Keeping in mind that many of "the people" aren't even yet of voting age.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, OUR students.  As parents must speak on behalf of them to ensure that our views on student health & safety are being met by policy makers across our state.  

I had the pleasure of meeting with one of our House Delegates this morning, Delegate Roxann Robinson (27th District, Republican) and spoke with her regarding a few House Bills that have been of major discussion within our schools and communities as of late.  I was met by a warm welcome from her Legislative Assistant, Eric Philipkosky while our group waited for the 10:45 am meeting time.  We engaged in short and quiet conversation on the House Bills and our shared our personal thoughts as we waited for the group ahead of us.  If you've never been to the General Assembly Building, you must know that it can be hectic and busy at times and this was one of those mornings.  There were many lobbyists, citizens, non-profit groups and organizations who were eager for a few minutes of time from our State Representatives.

I shared with Delegate Robinson that three of the bills up for consideration that I wished to discuss were HB1557- School boards; training for persons designated to carry concealed handguns on school property; HB1582 - Armed security officers; protection of schools and child day centers; and HB1730 - Standards of Quality; full-time uniformed school resource officer.   In short, these bills seek to amend several current state laws that reflect widely on permissible use of handguns on school property.  Each one respectively different in measure but incredibly important to parents and students nonetheless.

Now, because I advocate for students in several capacities across multiple organizations and my personal views on each of these bills may vary from the stance of the specific organization, I will stick to the facts and let you form your own opinions and solutions.  My job is to inform you and let you decide how you feel you should act.  We will begin with HB1557 and what this means for Virginia students......

Each school board shall designate at each school in the district at least one of the following who, notwithstanding any other law to the contrary and upon application with the school board, may carry a concealed handgun on school property: (i) a teacher, principal, or other employee of the school who has been employed by such school division for at least three years; (ii) a person holding a valid concealed handgun permit issued in accordance with § 18.2-308 who currently volunteers and has volunteered for at least three years for the school; or (iii) a retired law-enforcement officer as defined in § 9.1-101 who has lived in the school's district for at least three years. Such designation shall be at the sole discretion of the school board. Any person designated under this section to carry a concealed handgun shall be certified and trained in the storage, use, and handling of a concealed handgun by (i) the Virginia Center for School Safety as provided in § 9.1-184 or (ii) any National Rifle Association firearms safety or training course conducted pursuant to the minimum training standards established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services under § 9.1-102.  

Let's break this down a bit, focusing on who can be designated by this bill to carry a concealed handgun on school property:

1) A Teacher, Principal or "other" employee of the school who has been employed by the school division for at least three years.  Keep in mind that these designated persons must meet eligibility requirements under all other laws.  
2) A "person" holding a valid concealed handgun permit issued in accordance with current laws who currently VOLUNTEERS and has volunteered for at least three years for the school. Again, this "person" would have to meet eligibility requirements to have been permitted to carry a concealed handgun permit.
3) A retired-law enforcement officer who has lived in the school's district for at least three years. 

The proposed bill would require the local school board to designate at each school within the district, at least one of the persons mentioned above.  Further, the bill gives sole discretion to the school board to designate such person upon application.  In order to become certified to carry a concealed handgun the individual would require MINIMUM training.  As described under § 9.1-102. Powers and duties of the Board and the Department; Paragraph 57, such training shall include but not be limited to, situational assessments pertaining to the use or display of a firearm, safe carrying and storage of a concealed firearm, the use of a firearm, the proper response to emergency situations on school grounds until the arrival of law enforcement to the scene, and the laws pertaining to the carrying and use of conceal. 

Once that individual is certified, under current law, they are then required to re-apply or renew their concealed handgun permit again within 5 years.  No training, refresher course or in person application requirements exist under the current law and as I read it, there is no amendment speaking to additional training under this proposed bill.  I cross referenced the current laws on concealed carry permits to obtain this information.

There are several other important details covered in the proposed amendment such as permitting guns to be locked in vehicles on school property and such.  I HIGHLY recommend that if this bill is of interest to you that you take the time to read HB1557 in its entirety.  During the session on 1/17/13, the House voted to refer the bill to the Governor's School Safety Task Force.  Governor McDonnell issued an Executive Order establishing a School and Campus Safety Task Force on December 20, 2012.  The task force has already commenced and is expected to send initial recommendations to the Governor no later than January 31, 2013 so that the General Assembly can consider them during this session.  Final reports on all aspects of the executive order are due no later than June 30, 2013 so that recommended actions can be implemented before the 2013-2014 school year begins.  

More on HB1730, HB1582 and other important health & safety related legislation to come.  Stay tuned.  


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