PHOENIX - Calling it a key to preventing mass shootings, a House panel voted Wednesday to require teachers and health professionals to report potentially dangerous people to police.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said all the proposals to keep people safe with new regulations on guns, or even police in classrooms. won't stop someone from shooting up a school. He said the only thing that really works is stopping it before it happens.
Kavanagh, sponsor of HB 2555, cited reports that teachers and officials at Pima Community College knew about what was described as bizarre behavior by Jared Lee Loughner before he killed six and wounded 13 two years ago in a Tucson Safeway parking lot, including then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The same committee also approved HB 2618 to require additional training for police cadets to be able to identify those with dangerous mental illness so they can detain those people for additional mental health treatment.
But the panel also gave the go ahead for a third Kavanagh measure, which would increase the ability of individuals to bring their guns into public buildings. HB 2554 says a mere sign banning weapons, by itself, would not be enough to make a building gun-free. Neither would the availability of gun lockers somewhere else.
Instead, a government agency seeking to keep armed citizens out would have to provide lockers within 200 feet of the building entrance for individuals to store their guns.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, was critical, in part because of the cost to taxpayers of having to install lockers at all public buildings.
"I'm sorry there are some people that live in a state of paranoia where they have to have their weapon with them at all times," he said. "But I don't see how that has to be at taxpayer cost."
Rep. Sonny Borelli, R-Lake Havasu City, responded, "People are only paranoid because there are crazy evil people out there."
Kavanagh said communities that don't want to install gun lockers can allow people to carry their guns into the building.
Courts, college campuses or buildings that have guards and metal detectors could still prohibit guns.
But it was HB 2555, the measure to mandate reporting of those with mental health problems, that proved the most controversial.
Kavanagh said his legislation has safeguards. He said it requires someone to personally observe conduct that shows the person is a danger to self or others, or that there must have been "an actual communicated threat" and that the individual has both the intent and the ability to carry out that threat.
Calling the police does not necessarily mean anyone is going to be locked up in the state hospital. It simply allows officers to analyze the situation and either call for a mental health crisis intervention team or detain the person for further observation.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, was skeptical. He questioned forcing teachers to call the police based on someone being considered a "danger to self or others.
"When you're talking about kids on a playground and they're throwing rocks or they get in a fight, that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with mental illness or health issues," Farnsworth said.
Kavanagh assured lawmakers the state Department of Health Services would distribute information to teachers on how to identify true problems "so it's not just their own subjective personal opinion."
He told colleagues they don't need to look far for an example of why the legislation is needed, citing the Loughner case as a prime exhibit. "School officials knew about this and nobody thought to call the police," he said.
But Farnsworth saw other problems with the measure, pointing to another provision to give teachers absolute immunity from lawsuit for calling police, whether the teacher acted reasonably or not.
"If they act in a way that they're going to report somebody just to get back at a parent that was upset at them, why should they have immunity?" he asked.
But Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said he sees the legislation from a different perspective because his wife is a teacher.
"She has been threatened with her life at school before," he said. "It took three different times complaining to the principal ... before the police were brought in. Thank goodness nothing happened in between.'
He said this legislation would make it clear teachers not only have the right, but the obligation, to report such behavior to police.
All the measures now go to the full House.