PHOENIX - State lawmakers edged closer Wednesday to allowing armed staffers in some public schools.
The 6-5 vote by the House Appropriations Committee would permit local boards to designate someone who could legally possess a concealed handgun, pistol or revolver. The measure now goes to the full House; a similar version of SB 1325 already has been approved by the Senate.
Not every school would qualify. The bill offered by Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, would be limited to schools with fewer than 600 students located more than 30 minutes and 20 miles from the closest law-enforcement facility.
Any school that already has a resource officer, who is a sworn police officer, cannot arm others.
Wednesday's vote came after lawmakers agreed to add a requirement for some very specific training before someone who is not a police officer could be armed. That includes passing a handgun qualifying exam offered by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
Lyle Mann, executive director of AzPOST, said that likely would include an initial 40 hours of training on everything from marksmanship to the laws on when someone can use deadly force. It also would involve four to six hours of annual retraining.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell called that insufficient.
He said individuals who want to be police officers need 24 hours of just "active shooter" training, where individuals are put into various situations where they have to decide how to react and when to shoot or not to shoot.
"It's like giving someone 40 hours of training and saying they're a doctor," he said.
"This is going to lead to more problems, and it's going to lead to somebody getting killed or getting seriously wounded," Campbell said.
At the very least, he said, that will lead to liability for the school. But that's just part of the issue.
"I cannot imagine what would happen if you were a teacher and you accidentally shot the wrong person," he said. The solution, Campbell said, is more school resource officers.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that solution is not realistic. He put the cost of putting one police officer in every school in the state at $300 million.
Gov. Jan Brewer does want to restore some of the funds lawmakers have cut in prior years for resource officers.
But she has budgeted just $3.6 million in state funds, conditional on schools providing a dollar-for-dollar match. John Arnold, her budget director, estimated that would cover about 200 officers serving a fraction of the more than 2,000 schools in the state.
Kavanagh said what is being proposed here is not unique. He pointed out that Texas has a similar law allowing school staffers to be armed.
"And they've had no problems," he said.
Campbell said that proves nothing.
Not all the Republicans on the committee voted for the measure.
"In principle, I like it," said Rep. Tom Forese, R-Chandler. But he said what he heard about training and liability left him "uncomfortable" with the proposal.
But Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said this provides a "last line of defense ... to provide some defense for our students."
He said this legislation does not preclude future discussion of funding more school resource officers. In fact, Olson noted, if a school does get a resource officer, this measure precludes armed teachers.
Campbell said that is looking at the issue backward. He said there is plenty of money in the budget for school resource officers - if not for every school, then at least for the rural schools that are dealt with in this legislation.
"We throw money away down here left and right every day," he said.
"You can't have a cop everywhere," Kavanagh responded. "You do the best you can."