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Walker Proposes $100M School Safety Grant Program, Calls Special Legislative Session

Package Of Bills Doesn't Address Background Checks, Age Restrictions

Gov. Scott Walker
Andy Manis/AP Photo

Gov. Scott Walker called the state Legislature into special session on Thursday to weigh several school safety bills, including a $100 million grant program to pay for security improvements to school buildings.

But the governor’s proposals don’t include mandatory universal background checks for firearm purchases or raising the minimum age to buy guns from 18 to 21, two of the ideas supported by the thousands of high school students who marched on the state Capitol on Wednesday.

And while members of both parties have voiced support for increased funding for school security, comments from the Legislature’s top Republicans suggested the fate of Walker’s plans could be in jeopardy.

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Walker’s grant program would represent a sizable investment from state government, especially as lawmakers consider other bills like a new round of tax cuts that would cost state government millions.

“No child, parent, or teacher should ever have to feel unsafe in school,” said Walker in a statement announcing the special session. “This package of bills focuses on ways we can help schools be safe, just like we did at the federal level ensuring that every airport and airplane were safe after 9/11.”

Walker’s plan would also require mandatory reporting for any threats of school violence and amend Wisconsin’s anti-bullying laws to require prompt notification of bullying incidents.

Not included on Walker’s agenda, however, was any bill that would restrict access to firearms.

State Sen. Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said the governor’s proposals showed he was failing to address the most pressing gun safety issues facing students.

“I don’t see anything in here that will keep deadly firearms out of the wrong hands,” Shilling said. “Failing to address the most pressing gun safety issues that are facing our students and our communities is only going to lead to more tragedies.”

Shilling said Democrats hadn’t been consulted on Walker’s plans.

Republicans who run the Legislature said they supported Walker’s proposals, but their comments raised the prospect that the bills might fail as lawmakers look to wrap up their business next week.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, issued a statement shortly after Walker introduced the bills praising the governor.

“Our chamber’s plan is to take up the legislation on the floor of the Assembly next week in a one day special session,” Vos said.

Fitzgerald issued a statement saying he was “fully supportive” of what Walker announced, but he said his members would pass bills in regular session — not special session — that would “closely align” with the governor’s plans.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards, which supports Walker’s proposals, warned that if the Assembly and Senate pass different versions of the bills, they won’t become law.

“And so it might be possible for legislators in each house to vote on a proposal and claim for campaign purposes or whatever, that they’ve supported school safety measures without anything actually becoming law,” said Wisconsin Association of School Boards lobbyist Dan Rossmiller.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said the Senate will hold its final session day of 2018 on Tuesday. Vos has said that the Assembly’s final regular session day was last month.

If the Assembly meets only in special session, it would not have to consider any regular session bills that were passed or changed by the Senate.

That’s significant because Fitzgerald wants the Assembly to agree to changes the Senate plans to make on everything from a plan to close the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison to Walker’s election year tax cuts.