NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The bill allowing private certified firearms instructors and the local law enforcement agency to train teachers who are allowed to carry concealed firearms on school property passes the House Civil Justice Committee by a vote of 8 to 3 along party lines.
House Bill 2208, sponsored by David “Coach” Byrd (R-Waynesboro), after about an hour and a half of debate, passed another hurdle Tuesday. As previously reported by The Tennessee Star, the bill expands a previous bill by Byrd that was restricted to the distressed rural counties of Wayne and Pickett, after local law enforcement did not conduct the training and following the Parkland, Florida school shooting.
Byrd, a teacher, coach and principal before retiring and joining the Tennessee General Assembly, would prefer to have a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every school. But, across there state there are approximately 800 SROs for the 1,800 schools, providing coverage to only about 40 percent.
The financial reality is that, at a cost of approximately $45,000 per year, rural distressed counties cannot afford to have an SRO in every school.
The bill is “permissive,” in that each individual Local Education Agency (LEA) can opt in but is not compelled to participate in the training and allowing teachers to conceal carry on school property.
The bill does not permit the LEA to replace an SRO with an armed teacher as a cost savings.
Teachers will volunteer, and not forced, to be trained, will have to be a permit holder, will be selected by the school director along with the principal from those who volunteer to complete the training, with no more than one teacher per 75 students. Training is required to be a minimum of 40 hours plus 16 hours of continuing training.
Testifying against the bill were two law enforcement professionals, Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and Tennessee Sheriffs Association Executive Director and President Terry Ashe.
Representatives from the Department of Education and Mothers Demand Action, who is also a former Nashville educator, likewise spoke against the bill.
Jim Wrye, as Assistant Executive Director of Communications and Government Relations is the chief lobbyist for the state’s teacher’s union, Tennessee Education Association, previously with the Alabama Education Association and former head of the Alabama Democratic Party, also opposed the bill.
A thread common throughout the testimony of the witnesses was that an SRO is the only appropriate approach to defending against a school shooter.
Perhaps revealing his opposition to the bill, Governor Bill Haslam proposed an amendment to his fiscal year 2018-19 budget that would provide an additional $30 million to improve school safety across the state. “The funding includes $25 million in nonrecurring and $5.2 million in recurring school safety grants,” according to the announcement released today.
The Governor’s proposal is a fraction of the funding an another 1,100 SROs to provide coverage at the remaining schools across the state, which doesn’t address whether the current coverage is adequate, would have an additional cost a total of $80 to $100 million annually.
Voting in favor of the bill were Representatives Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah), Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville), Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), Debra Moody (R-Covington), Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville), Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro). Voting against the bill were Bill Beck (D-Nashville), G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis), Mike Stewart (D-Nashville).
The bill will next be heard by the House Education Administration and Planning Committee.