After Emotional Hearings, Colorado Lawmakers Get To Work On School Safety Bills

After hearing hours of emotional testimony from parents and students who don't think Colorado's schools are safe enough in the wake of deadly shootings, state lawmakers are now considering eight measures to address the issue.

And they will spend the weekend working on them to meet a Monday bill drafting deadline.

The pieces of legislation they are drafting range from a proposal to provide first aid and mental health training to more Colorado teachers to a measure allowing students to take days off for mental health reasons.

"We'll keep working together…and we'll hopefully be a model for the nation because the nation is already looking to us to solve this problem," said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, who is leading the legislature's school safety committee. "Let us have the safest and happiest kids. Let's see a turnaround in the number of kids dying by violence. We can do that."

The committee started meeting in June in the wake of the deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. And the meetings have had a strong bipartisan spirit.

Republican lawmakers are now working side by side with Democrats on several pieces of the proposed legislation. That includes one that aims to create a new task force, which would seek to eliminate some of the gaps in the state's existing school safety programs.

A Recent Audit Of Colorado's Existing Efforts To Make Classrooms Safer Found Several Gaps

The state auditor concluded that a patchwork of programs is creating "gaps in services and challenges in determining their reach and impact." The state spent $75 million on school safety programs in the last two years.

Other ideas the legislature is considering to improve school safety include:

-Investing more in efforts to upgrade radios at schools so that they can more easily communicate with law enforcement during emergencies. Rep. Kevin Van Winkle said the state has been allocating up to $5 million per year, but it is sometimes seeing as much as $9 million in requests

-Hire someone to review the state's school safety programs and make recommendations for improvement.

-Make some beds available at state psychiatric facilities for students who need help with mental health

-Increase funding for the state's Safe2Tell hotline, which received more than 1,500 tips in August. The tip line is a place where students and others can report concerns ranging from a potentially suicidal student to drug use. Lawmakers specifically advocated for a bigger advertising budget for the program.

The committee will return to the Capitol on Oct. 31 to review the drafts of the bills and vote on which ones to advance to the full legislature in January.

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.

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