BY: MCKENNA HORSLEY

 Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Russell, introduced the amendment adding pastoral counselors to the school “guardian” bill. (LRC Public Information)

FRANKFORT — A bill authorizing armed “guardians” to fill vacant law enforcement positions in Kentucky schools was passed by a House committee Tuesday morning with several new additions, including one allowing pastoral counselors in schools.

Discussion among House Education Committee members largely centered on an amendment for Senate Bill 2 from Irvington Republican Rep. Josh Calloway that would allow licensed pastoral counselors to serve on trauma-informed teams in schools. He said the addition “gives parents options if they’re helping direct that care inside the school” and allows schools to have more “options based on what type of trauma that they were dealing with.”

The original Senate Bill 2 directed trauma-informed teams in schools to assist school employees who work with students who have experienced trauma in the past and record an annual report about its activities throughout the school year.

Republicans and Democrats on the committee raised concerns about the addition, but the amendment ultimately passed in a vote of 13-3 and one pass vote.

Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, said his vote was a “wishy-washy yes” as he believes some ministers could excel in this capacity while others could not. He said he wanted to support the bill moving out of committee to avoid killing the entire legislation.

“I’m concerned that this got dropped on us real fast without us having a chance to process everything about this and I need a little more time to process it,” Riley said.

Another Republican, Rep. Killian Timoney, of Nicholasville, agreed with Riley. Timoney said that he does see that the addition could address needs in some districts but he did not believe it was necessary with his knowledge of the mental health system. He said in the committee that he has served on trauma-informed teams in the past.

“If the alternative is to remove trauma-informed care, I’ll take this,” Timoney said.

Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville (LRC Public Information)

While voting no on the amendment, Louisville Democratic Rep. Tina Bojanowski, a teacher, said the committee had little preparation to consider the amendment that “some people would consider extreme” and added that not all of the questions were answered during the meeting.

Another Louisville Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Josie Raymond, voted no because “school is school and church is church.”

The primary sponsor of SB 2, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said he supported Calloway’s amendment as students who need mental health assistance could have “more offerings” under the change.

Abby Piper, a lobbyist representing the Kentucky School Counselors Association, told the committee the organization was not consulted about the amendment and isn’t supportive of it. However, the association is supportive of SB 2 and the committee substitute adopted Tuesday.

After the meeting, the association released a statement urging Kentuckians to tell their lawmakers to oppose Senate Bill 2.

According to the active license directory for the Kentucky Board of Licensure for Pastoral Counselors, the state has 33 active license holders.

Other changes

The committee also adopted a substitute version of the bill Tuesday. Chairman Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said the changes included more oversight of the school “guardian” program by giving the Kentucky Center for School Safety a staffer to coordinate the program if funds are available. Tipton said funds were included in the Senate’s proposed budget.

Under Wise’s original proposal, certified “guardians” would include honorably discharged military veterans and retired or former law enforcement officers. Other states like Florida have similar programs.

Another change in the committee was that if a local school board does decide to employ a “guardian,” it must enter an agreement with local and state law enforcement to identify the chain of command in emergency situations.

Wise had said his current legislation is a continuation of a school safety law that he successfully carried in 2019. The General Assembly enacted that as a response to a school shooting at Marshall County High School that killed two students and injured more than a dozen people.

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Representatives from the Kentucky chapter of Moms Demand Action spoke against the bill. The group seeks public safety measures to protect people from gun violence. One volunteer, Cathy Hobart, said she was “impressed with the care and concern” used to enact the 2019 law, but the current bill lacks the same concern behind it. He’s said his current legislation is a continuation of that policy.

“I think that armed guards in our schools will give many people the illusion of safety, but there is no evidence that they actually provide any safety,” Hobart said. According to a report from The Trace, there are “only a handful of documented cases in which an armed security guard or stationed police officer has stopped a school shooting.”

“And if we really want to keep our kids safe in school,” Hobart continued, “what we need to do is encourage their parents and grandparents and neighbors to lock up their guns.” Senate Bill 56, requiring safe storage of firearms and filed by Senate Democratic Floor Leader Gerald Neal, has not been given a committee hearing.

As of Tuesday morning, Senate Bill 2 had no readings on the House floor. After a third reading, the House can vote on the legislation.

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McKenna Horsley
MCKENNA HORSLEY

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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