Tuesday’s shooting at a high school in southern Maryland has given new urgency to a package of school-safety bills that were proposed in the General Assembly after a deadly rampage in Parkland, Fla., and will be the focus of hearings Thursday and Friday.
“If we didn’t take a crack at this, then we would be derelict in our duty,” said state Sen. Stephen M. Waugh (R-St. Mary’s) who drafted the four bills and whose district includes Great Mills High School, where the shooting took place. “If not us, who? And if not now, when?”
His legislation focuses on preventing attacks through up-to-date background checks, anticipating threats with assessment teams, stationing armed school resource officers at schools and securing classroom doors.
It does not include arming teachers, which President Trump proposed after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida resulted in the deaths of 14 students and three staff members.
With less than three weeks remaining in Maryland’s 90-day legislative session, the bills have not been approved by either the House of Delegates or the state Senate, which normally would mean they are not likely to become law. But legislative leaders said Wednesday that they expect the bills to be heard quickly, and they noted that they have bipartisan support.
“School shootings are on everybody’s mind,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said on the Senate floor. “And they have been on everybody’s mind.”
Miller said he expects the Senate to consider a package that includes legislation proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that would require every jurisdiction in the state to perform safety assessments and create emergency plans for public schools.
“Prayers are not enough,” the governor said in a statement after Tuesday’s shooting, which left the teenage gunman dead and two others, ages 14 and 16, injured. “Today’s horrible events should not be an excuse to pause our conversation about school safety. Instead, it must serve as a call to action.”
Hogan has committed $125 million from casino revenue to pay for safety features in school buildings, including secure doors and windows, metal detectors, security cameras and panic buttons. He has also pledged $50 million annually in operating funds for new school safety grants, which could be used for school resource officers and counselors.
In addition, the state budget approved by the Senate last week restored $10 million for school safety grants that had been cut from Hogan’s budget proposal. Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor’s bill and those sponsored by senators all work toward the same goal of bolstering school safety.
“We will continue to work with our partners in the General Assembly to ensure that the best ideas move forward,” Chasse said.
Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the House of Delegates has been working on the governor's bill and will review the other measures.
Waugh, a former Marine whose sons grew up playing football against Great Mills, said Tuesday’s shooting was “gut-wrenching” for him. “It was jarring, it was unnerving,” he said in an interview. “I don’t know how to describe it to you.”
He said he hopes his bill will help every school be prepared for the worst, including by having more trained, armed school resource officers like Blaine Gaskill, the St. Mary’s County sheriff’s deputy who rushed toward the sound of gunshots and confronted the shooter on Tuesday.
“He absolutely saved lives because he responded within seconds,” Waugh said. “It demonstrated what an important component of it all the sworn officer is.”
Current laws on school resource officers vary by jurisdiction, with some counties requiring that officers be armed and others not.
Waugh said he and his colleagues are willing to make compromises to see the bills pass.
“I know we have a difficult task in front of us, trying to consume and address the question of school safety in the less than three weeks we have remaining,” he said on the Senate floor. “But I have great faith in this body and in the House that we are going to come together and get something done.”
Waugh said he was motivated to push the school safety legislation in part by a video he saw of a father whose daughter was killed in Parkland, and who came to a meeting with Trump to plead for a way to end gun violence.
Tuesday’s shooting, Waugh said, added “even more urgency to the matter.”