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Tue, May 21

House GOP pushes new mandates on school violence reports

PHOENIX -- Republican lawmakers on Wednesday approved new mandates on schools to report violent incidents in what Democrats say is feel-good legislation to hide the shortfalls in education funding.

HB 2119 requires school districts to come up with procedures to report any suspected crime that involves a deadly weapon or serious physical injury. That policy also would have to document "any conduct that poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to an employee, student or other person on school property.''

Most notably, that policy requires notice to a parent of any student involved.

Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said that apparently isn't happening now, citing the testimony of a parent of a student at Mountain Trail Middle School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District who was one of three targets of a death threat. That same suspect, she said also made statements about "shooting up the school.''

"No calls were made to parents,'' Barto said.

"In fact there was no policy in place to ensure this incident was immediately reported to anyone,'' she said, saying the student who made the threat was arrested "only after the parents got involved and they called the police.''

Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, said if GOP lawmakers were actually concerned about school safety there are some more concrete things they could do. That includes smaller class sizes and access to counselors and social workers.

"But of course we don't want to address those issues because it would require too much investment in children,'' she said.

Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Goodyear, chided her GOP colleagues for saying they care about public safety and yet approving legislation earlier this year to allow people to drive onto public school campuses with loaded weapons in their vehicles.

And Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, questioned whether creating police reports on every incident is appropriate, as these could affect a student's long-term future opportunities.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, agreed that the legislation would have long-term effects on children.

"It keeps them alive,'' he said. And Kavanagh said the only incidents that will be reported involve conduct that poses threat of death of serious physical injury.

Nor was he concerned about the possibility of police involvement, noting that, in most cases, the youngsters involved would be juveniles and not end up in adult court with adult records. More to the point, Kavanagh said, being referred to juvenile court could result in the students getting needed psychological help.

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said all the talk about investing in kids so they "make it'' misses the point of this legislation.

"They won't make it if they're dead,'' he said.

"They won't make it if they're in a hospital, shot up,'' Blackman continued. "The investment starts with safety.''

The 31-27 party-line vote sends the measure to the governor.

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