INDIANAPOLIS | Volunteers packing concealed, loaded firearms and known only to school board members soon may be patrolling the hallways of every public or charter elementary and high school in Indiana, or at least Hoosiers will be made to think so.
Senate Bill 1 was changed by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday to allow schools to exempt themselves from a pending mandate that at least one person in the school, called a school protection officer, be armed at all times.
However, the revised measure forces school boards to make that decision in a secret session, requires the state keep confidential which schools have opted out and prohibits schools from identifying their armed school protection officer, who does not have to be an employee.
"That way, a potential gunman or potential assailant won't know whether the school has an armed employee," said state Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, the committee chairman.
The panel also agreed to provide a $1,500 income deduction for tax purposes to any school protection officer who works more than 30 hours a year and is paid the federal minimum wage or volunteers for no money.
It rejected proposals to require training, beyond firearms training, for school protection officers, and for the state to assume liability in case a school protection officer accidentally shoots a child or someone else in a school.
State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, a former Hammond police captain and school board member, emphatically urged the committee to reject the revised legislation, explaining that putting untrained civilians with loaded guns in schools is "the worst thing that you can do" to improve school safety.
"A school protection officer is going to shoot first and ask questions later, and I don't think that's what you want," Lawson said.
State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, who devised the plan, said Indiana schools are vulnerable to armed intruders and suggested mass shootings at Columbine, Colo.; Virginia Tech University; and Fort Hood, Texas, could have been prevented by armed personnel.
Lawson pointed out that Columbine had an armed police officer in the building, Virginia Tech has its own campus police department and that pretty much everyone at an Army base knows how to shoot a gun.
Lucas responded by arguing abortion results in more annual deaths than gun accidents, at which point Brown, the committee chairman, halted the discussion and asked Lucas to leave the hearing.
The committee eventually voted 16-7 to send the legislation to the full House. State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, was the sole committee Republican to vote no, saying the plan had become "a convoluted mess."
"I'm all in favor of developing a procedure for better safety for our children and schools. Patching it together with a bunch of amendments in committee is not the way to go about doing that," Slager said. "It needs a thoughtful, well-considered plan with all the stakeholders involved."
Republican Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who championed the measure when it provided additional funds for police officers to patrol schools, said he's concerned lawmakers are losing focus on that issue.
If the proposal is approved by the Republican-controlled House it likely will go to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve the significant differences between the two versions.