LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A bill increasing school safety efforts in Michigan has been sent to the governor’s desk for her signature.
The legislation, House Bill 6012, passed the State House and Senate with significant bipartisan support. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has two weeks to decide whether to sign it.
The original bill, introduced last year, was aimed at giving nearly $10 million to Oxford High School. It would pay for school psychologists, a mental health coordinator and safety improvements to the building. A mass shooting there last November took the lives of four students and left seven people injured.
After the tragedy in Uvalde, Michigan Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Groveland Township, pushed to add another $27.5 million to that bill to make schools safer.
“We can make sure all the schools in the state get a start on what they need to do,” Johnson told News 8 on Friday. “What they’re going to want and what the state might be able to help them with.”
This bill would pay for $15 million in school safety grants. Public and private schools can use the funding to hire a third party that would analyze the security of school buildings. Johnson said the legislation does not suggest which safety measures should be put in place, rather it would let schools decide for themselves.
“That’s the good part about it,” Johnson said. “It’s going to allow the schools to determine what they need. We have far different types of schools all over the state, small and big in different areas. They need to take a look.”
Another $12.5 million would fund “critical incident mapping.” That would create detailed layouts of school buildings, helping police respond to schools quickly and effectively during an emergency.
“Make sure that the school is completely mapped out … so they know where they can enter it the quickest and the easiest,” Johnson said. “Even something like that might sound small, but it can save lives.”
Johnson said the bill is a start — schools may require additional support down the line.
“I think this is something we’ll have to put more money toward every year for many years to come,” Johnson said. “We need to get a good start right now, get the foundation laid and then make sure the schools have the resources they need to make sure that the kids are safe.”
News 8 reached out to the governor’s office about whether she would sign the bill. A spokesperson did not comment on that but said their “top priority” is making sure “students feel secure in the classroom.” The governor echoed that on Mackinac Island this week in an interview with News 8.
“Isn’t it worth trying if we can save a handful of lives, one life, a dozen lives?” Whitmer said. “There are things we can do to make kids safer.”
The governor’s spokesperson told News 8 on Friday that Whitmer has already taken action on school safety.
“In addition to this legislation, Governor Whitmer’s budget increased school safety grants from $10 million this year to $51 million for next year to provide funding toward the purchase of equipment or technology to improve the safety and security of school buildings,” the spokesperson said.
State Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, was one of many Democrats who voted for House Bill 6012.
“It’s good to put money toward improving our school system security,” McCann said. “I think a lot of resources have gone into that over the years and this will add to that.”
McCann made it clear that it’s only a first step, saying there’s much more the legislature should be doing for gun safety. He mentioned passing a safe storage law that would require people to safely store their firearms.
Referring to the Oxford tragedy, McCann said “a safe storage law maybe would’ve prevented something like this.”
“You can’t say that for sure,” he said. “The idea it could have possibly been prevented with legislation that hasn’t been taken up is a tragedy.”
“There are commonsense gun safety legislation bills pending that could be considered, that could be taken up,” McCann added. “To do those things in tandem would be a much broader and better solution and answer to this terrible tragedy than just sending the money after the fact. It’s very important, critical money, but it’s after the fact.”
Johnson told News 8 that she is open to the possibility of expanding background checks.
“We do have background checks, but I do think that we need to take a second look and make sure those background checks are comprehensive enough,” Johnson said.
The Republican senator also said mental health is a top priority of hers.
“You need to help people that are in that position,” Johnson said. “When somebody’s mental health is so bad that they believe mass shooting innocent people is the right answer, they should’ve — long before that — been to see someone that could help them.”
“We know we need to intervene before people get to that point,” she said. “That’s gonna be key.”