One of the many disappointing outcomes of the 2018 Minnesota legislative session is its failure to approve a robustly funded, stand-alone bill on school safety. Even more disheartening is that the failure occurred as the nation grieved two horrific school shootings that took a total of 27 lives.
Although numerous legislators on both sides of the aisle said after 14 students and three staff members were killed in Parkland, Fla., that they supported such a measure, they could not bring themselves to do the right thing and pass a separate bill that could have made Minnesota schools more secure.
Instead, the Legislature’s $1.47 billion bonding bill includes about $25 million for safety improvements to school buildings. It’s unclear whether Gov. Mark Dayton will sign that measure.
Additional funding for school security and related uses was rolled into the omnibus spending bill that Dayton vetoed on Wednesday. Had that measure been approved, an additional $28 million could have been devoted to protecting Minnesota students. That could have been done on its own merits if lawmakers had wanted to be sure that it would be signed into law, as Dayton repeatedly assured that it would be.
Dayton’s proposed budget included sending schools $21 million for school safety efforts. The Legislature saw that bid and raised it to $28 million, to be used for mental health grants, school security audits, suicide prevention training for school staff and more. But instead of making that money a stand-alone bill, it was tucked into the massive supplemental budget bill containing measures Dayton opposed.
Lawmakers could have looked to Minnesota’s neighbor to the east for inspiration. In March, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a $100 million school safety initiative with just a handful of dissenting votes. Schools will be able to apply for grants to improve security. In addition, that legislation will create a state Office of School Safety in the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office and require parental notification of bullying.
Unfortunately, too many Minnesota lawmakers chose to hold student safety hostage as a bargaining chip for other priorities. That didn’t reflect what Minnesotans want, nor what most legislators said they intended to accomplish. And the tactic wasn’t effective. School safety measures were derailed, as were initiatives for opioid abuse prevention and elder care protection.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board had advocated for enhanced school security in addition to sensible gun law reforms, including gun violence protection orders that would allow families to get a court order that could prevent a loved one from taking their own life or someone else’s.
But legislators mostly ignored that plea as well as the results of an April Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showing that 90 percent of Minnesotans supported expanded criminal background checks and that 63 percent would raise the purchase age for guns from 18 to 21. What’s left is the $25 million in a bonding bill that may be vetoed.
Minnesotans deserved better.