School safety bill needs only House approval
LANSING – A bill that would establish a 24-hour hotline for confidential reports of crimes and threats in schools won Senate approval in June, got funding approved by Gov. Rick Snyder in July, and needs only House approval and the governor’s final signature.
The Student Safety Act, based on a successful program in Colorado, is in the House Appropriations Committee, said Ari Adler, communications director for Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.
“It’s being reviewed,” Adler said. “I don’t know what the timeline is. There are other ways to report that information now.”
Because those other ways exist, Adler said, the bill isn’t considered urgent.
Under the proposal, the attorney general would set up the hotline and the State Police would keep its records.
The Colorado hotline was set up after the Columbine school shooting in 1999 and is credited with stopping 28 school attacks, 275 weapon incidents, 442 sexual offenses, 890 suicides and 1,636 bullying incidents, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency bill analysis.
The Student Safety Act would cover public, private, denominational and parochial schools from developmental kindergarten through grade 12.
The hotline would be named OK-2-SAY.
Proponents of the bill point to a federal study by the Secret Service and the Department of Education that found someone else knew an attacker’s plan in 81 percent of the school violence incidents they looked at. In 59 percent of the cases, more than one person knew of the plan.
Students told the survey takers they didn’t report the planned crimes because they were afraid no one would believe them, or that others would find out and they would be ostracized.
Similar programs in Michigan are local or regional. They include one in Cadillac Area Public Schools and the privately-funded Kent County Silent Observer “Fast 50” program, both considered successes.
The State Police has a school violence telephone hotline but the department admits, it’s not widely publicized (1-800-815-TIPS), according to the bill analysis.
The appropriations measure signed by Snyder sets aside $3.5 million to implement the hotline – if the bill becomes law. The money comes from the Lawsuits Settlement Fund, money the state wins in settlements.
Bills to establish the hotline were introduced in the House and Senate on the same day by Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes.
“The Michigan Student Safety Act is about enhancing our ability as a state to uncover violent activities before they occur and respond quickly,” Emmons said. “This starts with knocking down the barriers that intimidate students from telling someone about planned violence in our schools.”
The Michigan Education Association has called on the House to pass the bill.
“Safety is one of the most pressing issues facing our schools, and indeed, our society,” said Steve Cook, the MEA president. “Teachers and education support professionals can’t help students reach their full academic potential without a safe learning environment in place.”