Lawmakers get input, form task force on school safety
March 22, 2018 06:52 PM
SANTA FE, N.M. -- Law enforcement and school leaders offered their input to state legislators at the Roundhouse Thursday on how to prevent another school shooting in New Mexico.
It was clear there is no single answer to that question, but members of the Legislative Finance Committee listened to ideas about how to make states schools safer and give law enforcement the necessary tools to respond.
Lawmakers did vote to form a special task force to address safety concerns on public school campuses around the state.
One speaker knows all too well about the impact of a school shooting.
"We had a young man, a coward, come on our campus and commit an evil act," Aztec School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said.
Last December, a gunman walked into Aztec High School and murdered two students -- Francisco "Paco" Fernandez and Casey Jordan Marquez. Carpenter praised the swift action by law enforcement for stopping the shooter and saving lives, but he said many lessons were learned in the aftermath.
"I think there were some things that happened that went well there are lessons on that side, but I think how important communication is between law enforcement and the schools," he said.
Carpenter said the solution must be a combination of things, from increasing school security to addressing student's mental health.
"The most important thing is that we take action now," he said.
New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas also testified before the committee. He suggested more police officers at schools.
"It could be a deterrent," he said. "It definitely could be a deterrent to someone that knows, 'If I got to this particular school, I know they have security cameras and they have limited access and quite frankly someone behind those gates and doors is armed.'"
During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill to provide $46 million to improve security at schools over the next four years.
But one lawmaker, state Sen. George Munoz, said more needs to be done. The Democrat from Gallup said New Mexico can't wait until the next session in January, calling for a special section before students return to school in August to pass new laws aimed at preventing school shootings.
"And we have to be prepared in New Mexico," he said. "We can't be reactive anymore we have to be proactive."
Fellow lawmakers on the committee had concerns about calling a special session -- which could last up to 30 days on the taxpayers' dime -- saying there needs to be a plan in place first.
"If we're just going to come together and brainstorm about some of the ideas that we might be able to institute, then yes I have a problem with that," said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.
The committee voted to form the task force to come up with specific legislation to address school safety. Munoz said he may still call for lawmakers to initiate a special session in the coming months.
"And why do you wait?" he said. "Do you really want to do put a dollar amount on a kid in school's value?"
Updated: March 22, 2018 06:52 PM
Created: March 22, 2018 06:57 AM
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