‘Tennessee Three’ Votes Down School Safety Measures After Mass Shooting

ThePublica Staff

The Tennessee House passed new measures to enhance school safety in public and private schools in early April. However, the three Democrats who participated in a gun control protest at the Capitol, and later faced expulsion for doing so, opposed the bill.

After a lengthy debate, the house passed House Bill 322 with bipartisan support by a vote of 95 to four. The Tennessee Three, Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, voted against the motion, arguing that it failed to address the root cause of school shootings.

The bill includes several policies, such as a requirement for additional emergency drills at all schools, both public and private. It also requires increased security collaboration with state and local law enforcement.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, also signed an executive order to strengthen the background check process in Tennessee.

All of this comes on the back of a mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee at The Covenant School that claimed the lives of three children and three adults.

It’s been only a short time since the shooting, and now Governor Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, and Speaker Cameron Sexton have announced major steps to ramp up school safety all over the state. They’re talking about beefing up the laws and funding to put an armed security guard in every single public school in Tennessee. Plus, they’re also planning to ensure that people have better access to mental health resources.

“There is nothing more important than our students safely returning home each day,” said Gov. Lee. “As Tennessee grieves the tragic loss of six precious lives in the Covenant shooting, we are taking additional actions to significantly boost safety measures at every school with highly-trained guards, physical security enhancements and mental health resources. I thank Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and members of the General Assembly for their partnership as we pursue thoughtful, practical solutions to protect Tennessee students and teachers.”

The Governor’s amended legislation and budget proposal will include the following measures:

Enhanced School Safety Legislation (HB322/SB274)

  •   Enacts a multi-tiered accountability plan to ensure exterior school doors are locked while students are present, with opportunities for corrective action. State and local law enforcement will be authorized to check for unlocked doors
  •   Requires that private security guards are held to a high standard and receive active shooter training prior to being posted at Tennessee schools
  •   Requires every school district to establish threat assessment teams, a nationally recognized best practice to ensure students are connected to support services and behavioral health professionals, when appropriate
  •   Requires every public and private school to develop annual safety plans, which must include a newly required incident command drill for school leaders and law enforcement to prepare for what to expect in various emergencies

FY23-24 Budget Proposal:

  •   $30 million to expand a statewide homeland security network with 122 agents serving students at both public and private schools
  •   $140 million to establish a School Resource Officer (SRO) grant fund to place a trained, armed security guard at every public school
  •   $20 million for public school security upgrades
  •   $7 million for private school security upgrades
  • $8 million for additional school-based behavioral health liaisons across the state.

During the House vote, the three Democrats argued that these measures do nothing to remove firearms from dangerous people.

“We don’t want gun battles at our schoolhouse door,” Johnson said. “We want our kids to be safe, and to feel safe.”

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