By Matt Hoffman
Gov. Steve Bullock signed a school safety bill Thursday that would let schools offer a new tax specifically for school safety costs, and to use existing funding streams for safety upgrades.
Senate Bill 92 takes an expansive view on the topic, citing concepts from active shooter training to restorative justice, a disciplinary approach that shifts from punitive measures toward helping students reflect on their behavior and its consequences. The bill does not define all school safety uses, leaving it open to a school's interpretation.
Schools would be able to use money from an automatic levy established in 2017 for building maintenance for anything under the umbrella of school safety. They could also offer a specific school safety levy to voters, and would be able to shift unbudgeted money from existing funds toward safety upgrades.
The bill would have no cost to the state, instead relying on local taxpayers.
The money could cover initiatives like:
* Tech upgrades like a new camera system, which Riverside Middle School in Billings added in 2017, or Billings Public Schools' half-million-dollar emergency radio system purchased in 2017.
* Trauma-informed programs, which recognize students' exposure to traumatic situations affects their behavior and ability to learn, and that schools can try to address that through support like counseling. A wide-ranging program in Bozeman has been funded by a $3 million federal grant.
* Staff like school resource officers, which some districts hire at their own expense and many often struggle to budget for.
The bill's wide scope stands in contrast to other safety proposals at the legislature that were narrow in scope, like a school marshal bill creating a new class of armed guards for schools, or a stalled bill about door-lock regulation.
Bullock's office did not immediately respond to questions Friday morning. The state's online legislation tracking system shows the school marshal bill, HB 567, has been neither signed nor vetoed. If Bullock doesn't act on the bill it will become law.
(c)2019 the Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.)