MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican Gov. Scott Walker waded into the fierce debate over school shootings Thursday, unveiling a package of legislation that would commit at least $100 million to campus safety but not impose any gun restrictions or require that teachers arm themselves.
Pressure on politicians from statehouses to Congress to address school safety and gun control has been mounting since last month's mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people. Students around the country walked out of class Wednesday morning to demand tighter gun restrictions. About 3,000 students converged on the state Capitol in Madison, jamming the corridors outside Walker's office.
Walker wasn't around during the protest -- his office announced late Tuesday afternoon that he'd be in far northern Wisconsin on Wednesday for a bill signing. The governor, who is running for re-election this year, had been working on the package with Republican lawmakers for days but announced it early Thursday morning. He ordered the Legislature to take up the bills in a special session. He likened his proposals to security upgrades made at airports in response to the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.
"No child, parent, or teacher should ever have to feel unsafe in school," Walker said in a news release announcing the legislation.
Democrats pounced on the legislation, criticizing Walker for doing nothing to bolster gun control.
"It's disappointing to see Gov. Walker continue to ignore the pleas from Wisconsin students who want safe schools," Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement. "For a plan that is supposed to be about gun safety, I don't see anything in here that will keep deadly firearms out of the wrong hands."
The legislation calls for the creation of a four-person Office of School Safety within the state Department of Justice. The office would work with police and schools to develop best practices for school safety and provide training and other resources to schools. Any training the office provides would have to include trauma-informed care principals, which call for recognizing that people have gone through different traumas in their lives.
The office also would administer $100 million in new grants that schools could use to cover building security improvements, training and campus police officers. The grant money could come out of general purpose tax revenue.
The bills also would require all mandatory child abuse reporters to report any threats of school violence. Mandatory abuse reporters include doctors, mental health care professionals, teachers and guidance counselors.
Parents or guardians would have to be notified within 48 hours of bullying incidents; current state law requires such notification but lays out no time frame. School safety plans would have to include emergency prevention and security plans for after-school activities. Schools would be permitted to share live surveillance streams with police without violating student privacy laws.
The governor also issued an executive order Thursday calling on the state Department of Administration to consult with schools and police on security upgrades and create new state contracts with suppliers that schools can use to procure safety equipment and services.
Walker developed the legislation in consultation with Republican leaders in both the Assembly and Senate. The Assembly finished its regular two-year session last month but Speaker Robin Vos said members would return to Madison to take up the school legislation in a one-day special session sometime next week.
The Senate is expected to address school safety on March 20, the last day of the chamber's regular two-year session. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement the Senate will consider a plan that "closely aligns" with Walker's proposals without entering special session. His spokesman didn't immediately reply to an email seeking details of the Senate Republicans' plan.