ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - House Republicans in the Minnesota state Legislature surprised many Thursday with a series of measures that would dedicate more than double the Governor's proposed funding for school safety, though detractors were quick to point out it didn't include any of the gun control measures favored by the hundreds of thousands of students who rallied both in St. Paul and Washington over the weekend.
One of the bills would allow districts to make security upgrades with state-issued facility maintenance funds, an avenue of funding currently off limit to schools who might otherwise have to introduce a referendum to finance safety projects.
Another would allow schools to create mental health programs by contracting with local clinics and provide suicide prevention training for teachers. A new grant program would also help schools to conduct security audits of their buildings.
All of this, meanwhile, will likely cost more than $50 million.
"I think what you're seeing here is an increased commitment from the state and from the legislature to help schools who have plans on the books that they haven't been able to implement," said Rep. Jennifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who also serves as House Education Finance Committee Chair. "There is no more important thing that we will do this session."
But after a tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that claimed the lives of 17 students and staff and galvanized a national movement to push for gun control measures, Democrats in the legislature argue the plan is missing a key piece that would go much further in stopping similar incidents in the future.
"Ultimately though, I don't think any school safety plan is up to the task of stopping somebody with an AR-15," Roosevelt High School junior Ben Jaeger said.
Democratic representatives have a plan to institute universal background checks and raise the legal age to purchase firearms, though Republican leaders in the majority say they will not move forward with any "highly partisan" bills.
"I think what everyone needs to do [is come together] and the way we can all come together is if we actually circle around the problem and try to solve that," House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Thursday.