Support builds for tougher school safety plan requirements
Bipartisan support appears to have coalesced behind a proposal to better enforce a state requirement that all schools have updated safety plans.
The development came against the backdrop of a joint legislative session Tuesday on gun violence and firearm laws in California in which Democratic Senate leaders offered a plan to fund a program aimed at taking weapons out of the hands of people who, under current law, aren't allowed to have them.
GOP lawmakers offered their own packet of proposed bills that includes a call for school site safety plans to be audited annually and to include a tactical plan with specific steps to safeguard students and staff when responding to incidents, such as a shooting."
Republicans would also increase penalties against criminals who illegally buy, sell or possess firearms and for felons in possession of a firearm who were convicted of specific serious felonies.
"Our proposals would take guns out of the hands of criminals, prioritize existing mental health treatment resources, and improve campus safety," Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said in a statement. "And we can do all of this without infringing upon the rights of law-abiding gun owners. We can also do it without raising taxes or violating the Supreme Court's order to reduce the prison population. It is a question of our priorities and willingness to act."
The swirl of legislative activity in Sacramento on the subjects of campus safety and gun control comes on the heels of last month's mass shooting of 26 students and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The massacre led President Barack Obama earlier this month to propose a list of 19 executive orders - laws that can be changed without congressional action - aimed at reducing gun violence in America, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Although the issue has lawmakers in other states and in Washington, largely divided, there are some elements of the GOP plan that already have Democratic support.
SB 49, introduced last week by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, is also aimed at strengthening enforcement components of an existing law which requires all school sites to have in place a comprehensive safety plan that protects students and staff in the event of a natural disaster or man-made crisis.
Lieu's bill contains a provision that would allow the state to withhold principal apportionment from any school that has failed to abide by the school safety plan.
The GOP package would include a process for teachers to notify appropriate authorities about pupils with potential mental health issues that could result in violence or harm to themselves or other students, and an expansion of Proposition 63 program funding eligibility to include school personnel training to identify mental health issues likely to result in violence or harm.
Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway said the package will be introduced as legislation prior to Feb. 22 - the final day to present new bills.
The Leno-Steinberg proposal was prompted by the realization of a state database of almost 20,000 people who own firearms but are prohibited from doing so because of criminal records or mental illness, and must therefore be disarmed. But, according to testimony by Stephen Lindley, chief of the bureau of firearms for the California Department of Justice, there is not enough staffing to clear the backlog, which involves about 39,000 guns.
The bill would authorize the DOJ to use money from fees from the sale or transfer of firearms to clear the backlog. Those fees, known as Dealer Record of Sale fees, are available to the DOJ for some regulatory and enforcement activities but not expressly for the enforcement activities related to possession.
Lindley was urged by members of the joint legislative panel, including Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, to submit a budget request for the estimated $25 million it would take to hire 50 additional officers to eliminate the backlog.
Each year, the state investigates and seizes the guns of about 2,000 people on the Armed Prohibited Persons list. However, about 3,000 names are added to the list each year, Lindley said.
Testimony heard Tuesday confirmed that while California gun laws are among the toughest in the nation, there are gaps in enforcement as well as loopholes that allow some gun owners to skirt existing laws.
The 15 legislators seated on Tuesday's panel also heard from the state's top cops that hand guns - not assault weapons - are used in more than 90 percent of shootings statewide.