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School officer bills lose

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

RICHMOND—Enthusiasm for adding armed officers to all of Virginia’s schools has faded in the General Assembly in the face of how much such an effort would cost.

On Tuesday the Senate Finance Committee voted down two bills—one from Sen. Richard Stuart, R–Stafford—that would have expanded the school resource officer program.

Stuart’s bill—which would have put an SRO in every one of Virginia’s schools that didn’t already have one—was estimated to cost $134 million in the first year. A bill from Del. Mark Cole, R–Spotsylvania, is still alive and carries the same estimated cost.

Localities typically pay for SROs now, but Stuart’s bill would have had the state pick up that cost. Cole’s bill is less clear about who would pay for the officers.

According to the fiscal analysis of Stuart’s and Cole’s bills, 935 of the state’s 1,981 schools already have SROs, which means the state would have to hire 1,046 new officers to comply with the legislation.

The high cost  helped doom bills from Stuart and Sen. Creigh Deeds in Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee meeting.

“It was a lot of money,” Stuart said of his bill. “I just thought it was important to present the idea.”

Several senators said they’d rather spend the money on salaries for teachers and mental health professionals.

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D–Fairfax, said he doesn’t think more armed guards would be any more likely to stop an incident of school violence. He used the example of John Hinckley’s assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan; while armed Secret Service agents were all around, Saslaw said.

Hinckley was taken down by unarmed bystanders.

“Why do you think this is going to work?” Saslaw asked Deeds in the committee meeting.

“You have to do everything you can to protect the most precious asset,” Deeds replied.

While the Senate may be debating whether it can afford the cost, the House budget is likely to contain some provision for additional SRO money. Before the session began, House Speaker Bill Howell and other House Republicans—including some on the House’s budget-writing committee—said they support expanding the current grant program that localities use to help pay for SROs. Both houses will unveil their competing budget proposals this coming weekend.

Chelyen Davis:  804/343-2245

cdavis@freelancestar.com

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