State News

As public demand for safety reform grows louder, lawmakers weigh policy solutions

As public pressure rises to generate meaningful solutions to ensure school safety, lawmakers clash over how best to address the issue.

Image By: Jon Yoon and Jon Yoon

As lawmakers grapple with how to address school safety in response to a recent spree of school shootings, Gov. Scott Walker faces growing pressure to call a special legislative session to deal with the issue.

The state Assembly has already finished official sessions for the year and the state Senate’s last session is next week. However, Walker has said if lawmakers can get momentum behind legislation to improve school safety, he will call a special session to bring both chambers back to work.

Both Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, have already stated they are willing to return to address the issue.

Walker has said he has been working with legislators on a school safety legislation package, which he plans to release by March 20, when the Senate is scheduled to meet for the last time this year.

As of now, the governor has not released exactly what will be included under his proposal.

“Our focus is going to be simple,” Walker said in an interview with the WIZM radio station Wednesday. “Much like the country did after 9/11, where we dramatically changed the way we go into airports and get onto airplanes. Today we’re obviously very safe because of that. We want the same thing to be true in our schools.”

State Democrats have previously called for gun reform such as reinstating the 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases that was repealed by Republicans in 2015, banning bump stocks and assault weapons, as well as preventing domestic abusers from owning guns.

"We have dozens of [gun reform] bills that have been blocked that would make it far less likely that someone wishing to do harm to someone else or themselves would get access to a firearm,” state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, told The Daily Cardinal.

These bills have been consistently rejected by state Republicans, who favor structural school security improvements over gun reform.

But according to Heather DuBois Bourenane, the coordinator of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, gun reform and school security are inseparable.

“You can't have one without the other,” Bourenane said. “If we're serious about stopping school violence, we need to be serious about gun control.”

But some Democrats see room for compromise to address other facets of the issue.

Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, released a package of school safety legislation Tuesday to be introduced to the state Senate next week. The collection of bills would increase state aid for mental health services in schools, beef up training for mental health staff and grant schools more freedom in setting their own emergency procedures.

Public opinion may become increasingly important to the conversation as well, as students of all ages in Wisconsin and across the country have participated in school walkouts to protest gun violence and have called on legislators to take action.

“What we're hearing parents and school leaders and students calling for around this state are reforms that look past a one time pot of money that's going to cover building security,” Bourenane said. “I think the writing is on the wall with this. What the people are asking for right now are permanent solutions.”

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