A look at school security

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Public safety and school security are at front of mind right now, so what has the Legislature done in response to the public's call for action?

The Vermont House and Senate have approved or are near to approving several bills designed to improve public safety. First, there is the "imminent threat" measure that is designed to give law enforcement and the courts more authority to detain

people who demonstrate desires, and means, to do grave harm to themselves or others.

Sometimes called "red flag laws," this new law will help pre-empt someone from causing tragedy when warning signs are brought forth.

We've also passed legislation making it easier to remove firearms from scenes of alleged domestic assaults for a temporary period, allowing parties time and space to resolve differences in safer spaces. As with the "red flag law" described above, legislative drafters spent considerable time satisfying constitutional concerns centered largely, but not exclusively, around fourth amendment rights prohibiting unjustified search and seizures.

In the end, both bills passed with broad consensus.

We've approved a capital spending bill that will free up $5 million for school safety investments statewide. This money, along with other measures Governor Scott has undertaken through administrative means, will accelerate security investments that have been evolving at Vermont schools for some time now. The bill also includes funding for E-911 compliance, speeding up system improvements necessary so that school phone systems pinpoint the precise locations from which 911 calls are made.

Which brings us to S. 55, the bill that expands federal background checks to private sales of firearms, bans "bump stocks," limits magazine capacities and raises the legal age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, with exceptions for those with certain training or service experience.

It is an understatement to say there has been significant interest in S. 55.

I received a broad range of comments, representative of many, many factors behind what I believe is a common desire to live and thrive in safe communities.

The floor debate over S. 55 was long and challenging. We considered an unusually high number of amendments, many of which were accepted, which is indicative of the complexity of the subject matters, even among those with common objectives.

Over the past couple weeks, I've heard from many people who have expressed their strong support of the bill as a reasonable and necessary approach.

I weighed that against the firm convictions from friends who own guns and who are not part of the problem.

I voted for S. 55, and all the measures described above, because I felt a broad majority of people see these steps as practical, useful and not overly burdensome.

But these bills only scratch the surface of the societal ills behind the tragedies that have spurred this first response.

I serve on the Human Services Committee, and just this morning we heard from mental health and social services providers describing a "growing crisis" in our communities, partly based on opioids use within families, partly based on disengaged parents, partly based on disaffected young people and partly based on myriad other issues.

These legislative changes will be for naught if we ignore the underlying problems.

Brian Keefe (R-Manchester) represents Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and part of Sunderland in the Vermont House of Representatives.

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