Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday invoked last week’s fatal shooting at a Southern Maryland high school as he pushed state lawmakers to pass school safety bills before the legislative session ends in two weeks.
Hogan has proposed allocating $125 million to pay for safety features in schools and $50 million annually for new school safety grants, which could be used for school resource officers and counselors. A package of school safety bills, including the measures put forward by Hogan, is being considered by the state Senate and, if approved, would next go to the House of Delegates.
“Classrooms should never be places of fear for our children,” Hogan said during a news conference in Annapolis. “I am urging members of the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle to come together on this issue. The time to make our schools safer is now.”
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) have each said they are committed to passing a comprehensive package to improve school safety. Miller said last week that the Senate has been working on legislation since before the shooting at Great Mills High School.
Just before classes began on March 20, authorities said a student at the school opened fire in a hallway, fatally wounding 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey. Authorities on Monday said the 17-year-old gunman then shot himself during a confrontation with an armed school resource officer.
Sen. Stephen M. Waugh (R-Calvert), whose district includes the school, drafted legislation aimed at preventing attacks through up-to-date background checks, anticipating threats with assessment teams, stationing armed school resource officers at schools and securing classroom doors. Waugh said the Great Mills shooting was “gut-wrenching” and lawmakers would be “derelict in our duty” if they did not act.
Miller said last week the Senate would consider Waugh’s bills, which have bipartisan support, and Hogan’s bill, which would require every jurisdiction in the state to perform safety assessments and create emergency plans for public schools. Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to Busch, said Hogan’s legislation and the other school safety bills are under consideration by committees. The budget conference committee, made up of members of both chambers, agreed on Monday to put $41.6 million toward school safety programming and upgrades.
Hogan submitted a supplemental state budget last week that included $10 million for a grant to fund his school safety proposals.
Still, as he urged passage of his much larger school safety spending bill, Hogan said adding funding in the budget was “not enough.”
He also called on lawmakers to pass a wide-ranging bill intended to curb crime rates in Baltimore. The bill, which passed the Senate and will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, has been criticized by civil rights advocates, defense lawyers and some legislators for its focus on tougher penalties. Hogan said Monday that ongoing violence in Baltimore — which saw 347 homicides last year — makes action necessary.
“There can be no more excuses,” he said.
Hogan also addressed soaring health-care premiums, noting he has worked closely with Democratic leaders in the Senate and House to find a solution. He said although much work remains to be done, he has been happy with the spirit of bipartisanship.
“Unlike the dysfunction that has become typical in Washington, here in Annapolis we have chosen a different path. We have consistently proven that we can come together.”
The House of Delegates on Monday approved a $44.5 billion budget — Maryland’s fourth consecutive balanced budget with no tax increases. In a conference committee this week, members of the House and Senate will negotiate over minor differences in their respective spending plans.