Raleigh, N.C. — A wide-ranging bill to upgrade security at North Carolina public schools unanimously passed the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
House Bill 452 must still be vetted by the House Appropriations Committee before any consideration by the full House.
The proposal calls for spending $34 million over the next two years to improve emergency planning, crisis response and prevention in schools around the state.
"This bill is not the 100 percent answer, but I don't think that any bill can provide that," said Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, one of the primary sponsors.
About $20 million would be earmarked over the next two years to add school resource officers to middle and elementary schools and to pay for additional training for officers already on staff.
The proposal would provide a 2-1 match to local funding for school resource officers. Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson, questioned why the state doesn't pick up the full expense, especially in poor school districts, but co-sponsor Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said there isn't enough money in the state budget for that.
Another $10 million would help local systems pay for more guidance counselors, psychologists and social workers. It also requires school counselors to spend most of their time counseling rather than on other duties like proctoring tests.
"The biggest threat to schools is internal, not external," Glazier said. "The most that we can do is have more bodies gaining intel in the schools."
The final $4 million would be set aside to install panic buttons or similar alarms, directly connected to local law enforcement, in every classroom in the state by July 2015.
Other measures called for in the bill include anonymous tip lines for each school, more comprehensive emergency plans, including annual safety exercises, and providing local law enforcement with schematic drawings of and master keys to each school.
"In the case of a crisis, every second is critical," Holloway said. "We don't want law enforcement to have to ram a door down or break glass. Let's let them have a key so they have instant access."
Glazier noted that anonymous tip lines in Cumberland County schools have received more than 80 tips in the last three years that helped prevent incidents.
Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, questioned whether the safety exercises would go beyond huddling children in classrooms. Such situations usually don't have good outcomes in school shootings, he said.
Glazier said the state Department of Public Safety would work with districts on the best practices for safety exercises.
Sponsors amended the bill to add a proposal from Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, that would allow school districts to appoint volunteer school resource officers. The volunteers would have a law enforcement background, either as retired police or deputies or former military police, and would be vetted by the local sheriff's office before going into schools, he said.