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School Building, Officer Mandates Clears North Carolina House

North Carolina General Assembly

More building safety and campus police officer requirements for North Carolina's public schools would occur if a bill that cleared one chamber of the General Assembly on Monday becomes law.

The House voted unanimously for a measure that includes several policy recommendations made by a House study committee formed in response to the Florida school shooting in February that left 17 people dead. The bill now heading to the Senate would require all school buildings to undergo annual vulnerability assessments and middle and high schools to create student-to-student counseling programs.

Special training for school resource officers would be mandated in the bill, while charter schools would have risk management plans and hold safety drills like conventional public schools. State budget adjustments approved last week and currently on Gov. Roy Cooper's desk also have $28 million in new funds largely connected to the study committee suggestions.

"This is only the beginning," said GOP Rep. John Torbett of Gaston County, one of the bill's chief sponsors, adding that addressing school safety likely will be a continuous challenge. "I hope and I ... pray that we can get to the end. I just don't know if we're going to be able to do that."

House Speaker Tim Moore blocked debate and votes on several Democratic amendments containing gun-control restrictions and other items, saying they weren't relevant specifically to the bill's focus on school safety. The Republican-controlled House voted to uphold Moore's decisions when Democrats appealed his rulings.

Some amendments would have raised the age to purchase any firearm from 18 to 21 and banned "bump stocks," which allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire. Another amendment would create a process by which a judge could order people considered physical threats to themselves or others to surrender weapons temporarily.

"We are really missing an opportunity for something serious for school safety," said Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, the author of an amendment ruled out of order.

Cooper has supported many of the ideas in the amendments, and Cooper's budget proposal requested $130 million toward school safety, enough to hire hundreds of additional police officers, school psychologists and other support staff.

The General Assembly addressed school safety in 2013 following the Sandy Hook school shootings, providing matching funds for school districts to pay for law enforcement officers and for the installation of school panic alarms. Then-Gov. Pat McCrory formed a school safety center now housed within the state Department of Public Instruction.