Arm teachers or add more SROs? TN lawmakers consider bills aimin - WSMV News 4

Arm teachers or add more SROs? TN lawmakers consider bills aiming to protect students

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Tennessee State Capitol building (WSMV file photo) Tennessee State Capitol building (WSMV file photo)

A bill to arm certain teachers, specifically in rural counties that can't afford to hire enough student resource officers (SROs) for every school, passed a House subcommittee today.

However, the move left some legislators, teachers and activists wondering if it is the best and only way to keep kids safe in school. 

Rep. David Byrd of Waynesboro says he proposed the bill with other lawmakers because the counties he represents don't have the funds to hire more SROs.

The bill, which Byrd co-sponsored with Reps. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), passed the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday in a 5-2 vote. 

However, another bill was recently introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposing instead to add more SROs to schools across the state with community effort and some funding from the state.

“The last time we met when we were talking about this, we were talking about the need for us as a legislature to do something, and this act is just that," said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. "It is doing something."

The School Safety Act of 2018 would rely on volunteers, specifically off-duty law enforcement who want to make some extra money, in order to make sure there are two SROs at every school in Tennessee. 

Lawmakers say the volunteer officers would earn around $54 per day. The money would come from the civil asset forfeiture fund, money seized by law enforcement from civilians committing crimes, which the state's justice department often uses to fund a variety of projects. 

“The 50-mile radius (for pooling interested officers) makes plenty of opportunities for those small counties to reach out to neighboring counties,” said Senator Mark Green, R-Clarksville. "So I think the resources will be there, and our guys are going to step up, and our gals are going to step up and help."

Sponsors of the bipartisan bill said they expect to get some pushback but feel keeping guns in the hands of trained officers is the best solution. 

For Bryd, choosing between the two bills comes down to a matter of cost.  

“I’m going to continue fighting for funding for SROs," Byrd said.  "Hopefully, if we can [get] funding for SROs, then we won’t need this bill."

When reporters told Byrd about the new solution to hire existing officers as volunteers, Byrd said he would vote for the measure. 

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