July 25, 2018 Winston: A law enforcement officer helps evacuate teachers and students during an active shooter training exercise held by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office at Mason Creek Middle School on Wednesday, July 25, 2018, in Winston. The large scale training drill is meant to test the resources of area law enforcement and emergency responders in an effort to better prepare Douglas County First Responders in the event of a mass casualty active shooter event. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Georgia Senate approves school safety legislation

A year after a campus shooting in Florida captured the nation’s attention, the Georgia Senate on Wednesday approved school safety legislation.

Senate Bill 15 would require routine threat assessments and drills in public schools and would mandate coordination between state agencies and local authorities and schools. It also would establish a program for certifying current or former military or public safety personnel as school safety coaches.

The legislation by Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, a volunteer firefighter with a son in a Fulton County school, was approved 47-8 and now goes to the House of Representatives, weeks after the anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The Senate Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Albers, stripped some of the most controversial elements, removing private schools from the mandate and eliminating a requirement that the state “curate individual student profiles” from school records and state agency files. Some saw that as an invasion of privacy and a record that could leak online, following students into adulthood. The committee also eliminated a provision giving safety coaches a property tax break, allowing schools districts to decide whether to pay them.

One senator, Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, who ultimately voted for the bill, wanted to know why it didn’t address guns directly.

Albers said the legislation addressed safety in general, noting that vehicles in parking lots could also be weaponized. “This is a much larger issue than any one specific act,” he said. The main focus, he said, was prevention — “identifying a problem before it happens” by encouraging people to report suspicious behavior and encouraging a coordinated reaction.

The legislation wouldn’t mandate curation of student data but still refers to “profiles,” requiring collaboration between “all levels of law enforcement and mental health and social services providers whenever information from student profiles or student behavior warrants."

The bill also identifies the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as the primary agency for investigating school threats and mandates collaboration with local law enforcement.

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