Bills dealing with education clear Senate floor

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Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, proposed the “School Terrorism Prevention Act,” which cleared the Senate floor on Wednesday. CREDIT: Kaylee Poche/LSU Manship School News Service

Bills aimed at increasing student safety and supplementing TOPS funding have passed the Senate floor and seem close to becoming law. One would require any K-12 student who makes threats against a classmate to undergo mental health evaluation before returning to school. It now goes back to the House for approval of amendments the Senate made. Another would provide an additional dedicated source of funding for TOPS. The Senate passed this bill 31-2, with Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, and Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, voting against it. The House already had approved the bill. It now goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature.

Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, said he proposed requiring mental health evaluations in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February. He said the current threat identification system is reactive rather than proactive. The bill requires school employees of kindergarten through 12th grade schools to report any threats on school property to administrators. Bacala’s bill also requires school districts to establish investigation procedures since students often make mindless comments about violence even if they do not intend them to be threats.

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If school officials report a threat to law enforcement, a student would not be permitted to return to school before undergoing a mental health evaluation. Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, proposed creating the TOPS Income Fund, a dedicated fund for providing supplemental money for TOPS. Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, presented the bill to the Senate and suggested that term-limited public officials or those not seeking re-election could donate campaign dollars to the fund when they leave public service.

Claitor clarified that the fund would not be the main funding source for the TOPS program. Instead, it would just serve as an additional funding source. Sen. Hewitt, who has worked to undedicate funds and to create more spending flexibility for the Legislature, spoke in opposition to the creating the fund. She said it would be “moving in the wrong direction.”