Jacksonville lawmaker leads school safety effort in Congress

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - On the first full day Congress was back at work since the deadly Parkland, Florida, shooting, a group of U.S. Representatives are working on a series of bills to protect people in schools.

The Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018 is sponsored by Rep. John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville. It would reauthorize the Community Oriented Policing Services Secure Our Schools grant program through fiscal 2028 and would amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 in order to focus on "training to prevent student violence against others and self, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students."

The bill would also authorize the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, including mobile telephone applications, hotlines and internet websites.

The bill has six Republican co-sponsors and five Democratic co-sponsors. It also has the support of Sandy Hook Promise, a group advocating to protect children from gun violence. It is led by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

Rutherford, who spent 28 years in law enforcement, the last 12 years as Jacksonville's sheriff, said he knows this idea will work. At a news conference with other lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Rutherford said this bill needs to pass right away so no other children are in the line of fire.

"I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure across the country for not just Congress to act, but local, state and governments as well," Rutherford said. "People want these events to stop."

Backing Rutherford's bill were both Republicans and Democrats.

Rep. Ted Deutsch is a Democrat from Broward County, where the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting took place.

"This is not the only step we need to take -- that’s what the students made ever so clear -- but this is an important step," Deutsch said.

UNCUT: Lawmakers promote STOP School Violence Act

Rutherford's bill was introduced Jan. 31, two weeks before the Parkland shootings and aims to invest in “early intervention and prevention programs to stop school violence before it happens.”

It would allow the Department of Justice to make grants to states for training students, school workers and law enforcement to spot signs of violence and intervene before someone gets hurt.

"We know that these horrendous school shootings are preventable," said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise.

Barden’s 7-year-old son, Daniel, was killed in his first-grade classroom.. Barden now works to pass laws to protect children and prevent mass shootings.

“We've  trained people how to recognize those warning signs and take appropriate action," Barden said.

Rutherford and the other lawmakers stress this bill is one step in making schools and other public places safer. Later this week, they will be asking Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump for their support.


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