The Maryland Senate passed a measure to improve school safety Thursday, after making a significant change to accelerate when all public schools would be required to either have a school resource officer or demonstrate plans for adequate law enforcement coverage.
The Senate voted 44-0 for the bill, sending it to the House. That came shortly after a much closer vote that changed the bill significantly. Under the change, all Maryland public schools would be required to have a school resource officer or demonstrate plans for coverage from law enforcement by the start of next school year.
Initially, only high schools would have been required to do so in that timeframe. Middle and elementary schools would have had until July of next year to implement the policy. Eleven Democrats joined 14 Republicans to change the bill.
Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican who proposed the amendment, said he didn't feel comfortable leaving middle and elementary schools out of the security requirements until later. He said the requirement is important, especially for schools in rural areas that might not be as close to law enforcement as schools in urban or suburban settings.
"We've got to say every middle school or elementary school, too, should have adequate police coverage," Hough said. "The police need to be able to get there if there's some sort of an emergency."
Senators who opposed the accelerated implementation noted that the measure already required local school systems to gather data on their current security resources, so informed plans could be made by July of next year. Some also expressed concerns about cost.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, said the change increased the cost of the bill by an estimated $100 million or more. He also said police indicated they could not meet the new timeframe.
Miller asked Hough to work with state analysts to discuss the impact of the change. Miller also highlighted the importance of working with the House, which doesn't have a similar bill. The session is scheduled to end midnight Monday.
"It's a very important bill, and like I say we've got to come away with something for sure," Miller said.
The measure, which has been advancing in the Senate with bipartisan support, aims to create a variety of standards and guidelines for school safety statewide. Those include issues involving the training of school resource officers, safety drills for staff and students and identifying mental health concerns that could threaten student safety.
Lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan proposed legislation to increase school safety after the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The issue of school safety has gained even greater interest in Maryland after the March 20 shooting in southern Maryland at Great Mills High School, where a student shot and killed a former girlfriend before killing himself.