By Dan Holtmeyer
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's government is one step away from passing several bills aimed at increasing school safety after the House cleared four proposals Thursday, though some officials warned that the bills wouldn't accomplish their goal.
The measures follow last year's deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn. One bill would create a school safety division within the state's Office of Homeland Security to coordinate with schools seeking safety information. The other three would tell schools to share emergency plans with local responders, run intruder drills each semester and report any firearms found on their campuses.
All passed with at least 85 of the chamber's 101 members in favor and now go to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who is expected to sign them into law.
The proposals are the result of several recommendations from the Oklahoma Commission on School Security, which was convened by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb after 20 schoolchildren and six adults were killed in a shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., in December.
"I applaud the passage of the legislation today but I'm also reminded that we must as a state continually address school security," Lamb said in a statement after the House vote. "No one policy or bill can prevent all evil."
Though the bills passed overwhelmingly, they received their first nay votes in their current form with Thursday's House vote. A handful of representatives questioned whether the proposals would accomplish anything or were redundant with current law and were meant to score political points.
"I have to tell you, this looks like purely a political statement by some political leaders to bang the drum, get some headlines: Here we go for homeland security, for school security," said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, when the safety institute bill was being considered. "It's unnecessary. It's going to pass. Hooray, hooray."
As an example of the redundancy, Morrissette said the Office of Homeland Security should be coordinating with schools because that duty is already spelled out in statute. His Republican colleague Mike Reynolds, also of Oklahoma City, wondered why the state needed to tell schools to report firearms when they already do so.
"Are schools exempt from reporting certain crimes?" he asked.
Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, said schools aren't. "It's simply just clarifying language that was already in existence," she added.
Reynolds also questioned the cost of the school safety institute. House Speaker T. W. Shannon said after the vote he was confident the measures would be adequately funded in this year's budget, which is still under negotiation.
"I think we've certainly got commitment to fund them," Shannon told reporters. "I don't see them being a big expense item."