Unfortunately it is an all-too familiar headline: “School shooting leaves several dead, more injured.” It is an epidemic that we in this country should not have to live through nor tolerate. Ensuring our children are safe while at school should be one of this country’s top priorities.
When I came to Lansing three years ago, I knew one of my main focuses as a legislator would be to look at Michigan’s statutes regarding protecting children and try to strengthen them wherever I could. This legislative session, I have continued that trend by having more than 40 percent of my introduced legislation be centered on kids’ issues. Whether it be amending policies our Department of Health and Human Services has in place, dealing with our foster care system or strengthening school polices on security planning, one of my central focuses as a state representative is to ensure our laws dealing with children are made stronger. Several of my bills deal directly with school safety and keeping our kids secure while they are learning.
That being said, one bill that I recently introduced that is at the top of my legislative agenda for this session is House Bill 5351. This legislation would create a school security task force that would be housed within the Michigan State Police (MSP). The task force would be comprised of members from the MSP, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and appointees of the governor.
Regrettably, school violence is becoming more and more commonplace in our society. The purpose of this task force would be to make recommendations for improving school policies and procedures in response to school shooting incidents in our state.
Under House Bill 5351, in making these recommendations, the task force would be required to gather information concerning school shootings throughout the state, receive reports and testimony from individuals, state and local agencies, community-based organizations, and other public and private organizations, review policies and procedures developed in other states to improve the school response to school shootings, create goals for school policies and procedures statewide to prevent school shootings, create recommendations and guidelines for school policies and procedures for response to school shootings, and submit a report with the task force's recommendations to the governor and Legislature.
Another bill I introduced earlier this session is House Bill 5012. This legislation is part of a three-bill package that would direct the Michigan State Police to maintain a list of qualified volunteer to patrol school premises and make that list available to school districts. Individuals who volunteer would be eligible for a tax credit. In order to meet the criteria to be a qualified volunteer, the individual must be a current or former certified law enforcement officer, be submitted to a criminal background check, and be certified to carry a concealed firearm.
Being the father of two school-age boys, I cannot imagine a more important issue than making certain our kids are safe at school. House Bill 5012 will add another layer of protection into place in addition to the safeguards schools already implement. Hopefully, it will provide parents with some peace of mind.
In addition, earlier this month, I sponsored House Bill 5308, which would exempt school boards from the Open Meetings Act and allow them to meet in closed session when discussing security planning to address existing threats or to prevent potential threats to the safety of students and staff members.
The Open Meetings Act was originally enacted in 1976 with the intent of giving all Michigan citizens the right to know what happens in government by requiring public bodies conduct nearly all business in open meetings. I understand that Michigan's citizens should have the right to know what is going on in this state. However, protecting our children and ensuring they have a safe learning environment should be a given right as well.
House Bill 5308 does a good job of merging these two ideas — school boards would only be allowed to go into closed meetings when dealing specifically with security planning. This is just common sense, as we do not necessarily want the public to know of a school's security protocol.
Putting the safety of Michigan’s children at the top of the legislative agenda is something I hope my colleagues agree with and support. House Bills 5351, 5012 and 5308 help to strengthen our current statutes surrounding school security. I can think of nothing more important than introducing legislation dealing with protecting our children.I am hopeful that Michigan can be innovative in this important area of law.
Robert L. Kosowski is a State Representative and the House Democratic Whip from the city of Westland. His district includes parts of Westland and the city of Wayne.