By Matthew DeFour
Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he is working with lawmakers on legislation to address school safety, though he wouldn't divulge which ideas he supports.
Walker said he opposes arming teachers, as President Donald Trump, Attorney General Brad Schimel and both Republicans running for U.S. Senate have floated as possible responses to the Parkla nd, Florida, high school shooting on Feb. 14 that left 17 people dead.
Speaking with reporters after addressing a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce event in Madison, Walker deflected questions on the gun debate that has embroiled the nation in recent weeks by offering up that he started talking with legislators last week about a school safety package that he intends to introduce in the next few weeks.
"There's plenty of things we can do," Walker said, drawing a comparison to how after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack the nation made changes to airport security.
"I think most of us certainly feel very safe today (in airports) years after all that," he said. "We need to have that same approach when it comes to schools, looking at making sure that no child, no student, no teacher, no parent should ever have to be afraid of being threatened."
Walker's position against arming teachers is a break from the National Rifle Association, which has spent $3.5 million to help Walker win elections in the state, more than any other state lawmaker since 1998, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Walker said he has spoken with teachers who aren't interested in being trained to use a gun in school, so he doesn't agree with the premise that arming teachers is the right action.
"We want something that's going to help school districts across the board," he said. "Those are the things we're focusing on."
Walker's comments come two days after Dane County education and political leaders called on the governor to lead on the issue of gun violence and school safety. Last week, Assembly Democrats forced a debate on universal background checks, which Republicans rejected. Instead they passed a bill offering school security grants and strengthening a ban on third-party gun sales, which two dozen Democrats opposed.
On Monday, Walker's spokeswoman said the governor supports grants for armed school security. The Senate has not yet approved the measure.
Walker said he has spoken with several Assembly and Senate members who have expressed interest in school safety legislation.
The Assembly is not scheduled to reconvene this year, but Walker said he's discussing with leadership the possibility of the Assembly coming back into session to address school safety. Other major bills Walker has proposed as part of his 2018 agenda related to tax cuts and closing the state's troubled juvenile prison are also at risk of not reaching his desk if the Assembly doesn't return.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Walker said he plans on speaking with parents, school officials and law enforcement before releasing a proposal.
"To do a comprehensive package we're going to need buy-in from everyone," he said. "If I start talking about every one of those items it makes it unlikely to be a comprehensive package."
Democrats have put forward several proposals to address school safety and gun violence, but have not been approached by Walker so far, said Kate Constalie, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.
"Democrats have been pushing for legislative action on gun safety for years yet Republicans continue to stall proposals which would improve safety in schools and communities," Shilling said in a statement. "There has been no need to wait. Democrats have legislation that is ready to keep our communities, schools and children safe."
The Democratic proposals include:
--Universal background checks for gun purchases.
--Banning the sale of assault weapons and bump stocks, which allow guns to rapidly fire and were used in last year's Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people and injured 851.
--Preventing domestic abusers from owning guns.
--Creating a process for family members and law enforcement to petition a court to have someone's guns taken away if that person poses a lethal threat. (Five states have such laws and Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott has endorsed a similar plan.)
--Reinstating a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases that Walker and Republicans repealed in 2015.
--Allowing school districts to exceed state-imposed revenue limits for security-related expenditures -- a measure Democrats enacted in the 2009-11 budget, but Walker and Republicans eliminated in the 2011-13 budget.
Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said school districts would appreciate additional grants or spending authority for things such as security officers, surveillance cameras, alarm systems, secured entrances, emergency exits or classroom door locks.
"Every district seems to have a slightly different set of needs," Rossmiller said. "Some already have school resource officers, some don't, some would probably want to spend money on some facilities."
Rossmiller said other ideas his group might put forward include additional educational resources for expelled students, allowing law enforcement to access school surveillance equipment and more funding for school mental health screening and services -- which Walker increased in the current budget.
(c)2018 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)