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Washington, DC—Today Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate, introduced the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018, legislation that funds school security improvements and invests in early intervention and prevention programs to stop school violence before it happens. 

 

Senator Hatch’s bill has garnered widespread bipartisan support and has been endorsed by a growing number of stakeholder organizations. To read more about his proposal, see here.

 

Via YouTube

My bill represents a respite from the anger and acrimony that too often pervades our politics. It is a symbol of the great good we can accomplish when we come together in common cause. Already, dozens of my colleagues, from both the Left and the Right, have signed on to support this bill. The STOP Act is just the start we need to prevent violence in our schools. So let’s come together to get this done.

The full speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Mr. President, one week ago today, I stood here and urged my colleagues on both the Left and Right to lay aside their differences and work together to prevent future tragedies like that in Parkland, Florida.  It has been nearly three weeks since the murder of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  While time will continue to march on, our resolve to do something about school violence must grow only stronger.

Over the past three weeks, my colleagues have put forth a number of legislative proposals.  Some are recycled versions of earlier proposals while others propose creative new ideas.  Some enjoy broad bipartisan support while others have not been widely embraced.  We have seen much discussion and debate but little legislative progress.  To break the impasse, we must unite on the issues where we agree.

Let today be the day that we come together to take a meaningful step forward on legislation that has the potential to prevent school violence, save lives, and restore the sense of peace and security that all children should enjoy when they walk through the doors of their school 

Today, I come together with my partners on both sides of the aisle to introduce the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act, or STOP School Violence Act.  As I outlined on the Senate floor last week, the bill will make Department of Justice grants available to fund four initiatives.

Last week, I outlined those four initiatives, and today I would like to describe them in even greater detail.  First, the bill will provide grants to be used for evidence-based training to prevent student violence against others and self, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students. 

One kind of training this bill would fund could prevent many incidents of school violence. Over the last 25 years, research has revealed that, in 7 out of 10 acts of gun violence, a friend or someone else was told that an act of violence would be committed before it happened.  In one study, it was reported that in 4 out of 5 school shootings, the attacker had told people of his plans ahead of time. 

We must ensure that everyone in the school ecosystem is educated to recognize the signs of a potential threat. We must likewise train students, teachers, and administrators to take action and follow up when they see warning signs.  By building a culture in which students and teachers understand the importance of reporting possible threats of violence, this bill will save lives and help keep our communities safe. 

Second, the bill will fund evidence-based technology and equipment to improve school security and prevent school violence.  After the shooting at Columbine High School nearly 19 years ago, I authored legislation that made Department of Justice grant funds available for metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures.  The Secure Our Schools program, which ran from 2002 through 2011, was the only federal school safety program that exclusively provided direct funding for the purchase and implementation of security technologies to improve school safety.

The legislation I am introducing today will reauthorize and build on that program to provide funding for proven school security infrastructure improvements, consistent with schools’ individualized needs and industry best practices.  While we certainly don’t need to turn our schools into fortresses, we must do more to protect our children from harm.

Third, the bill will provide funding for the development and operation of evidence-based school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams, which may include evidence-based training for school officials in responding to mental health crises.  These multidisciplinary teams—based on existing staff of school administrators, law enforcement, and mental health professionals—can implement proven, evidence-based approaches like the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines.  These guidelines, which have been documented to be effective in field tests and controlled studies, provide schools with a safe, structured, and efficient way to respond to student threats of violence.  Used at thousands of schools across the county, these are the types of proactive, preventive solutions that should be available for all schools.

Fourth, the bill will authorize funding for continued coordination with local law enforcement.

These four initiatives do not operate in isolation, but together are a comprehensive approach to improving school security and reducing student violence.  Training students and teachers to identify and report warning signs is critical to stopping acts of school violence before they happen.

As we saw in Parkland, having folks identify warning signs is not enough. There must be a process for acting on this information when it is brought to the attention of school administrators or law enforcement. The school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams that could be funded through this bill will ensure that schools have an effective procedure for evaluating and responding to potential threats of school violence.

Unfortunately, no amount of prevention will ever be able to stop every act of school violence before it happens. For those hopefully rare instances where we cannot intervene ahead of time, this bill ensures that funding is available to assist schools with commonsense security infrastructure improvements to harden schools and make it more difficult for attackers to succeed. And through each step of this process, local law enforcement has an important role to play in partnering with school personnel to prevent and respond to incidents of school violence.

States are already taking the lead in these areas to ensure that our schools are safe and secure.  Last week, I highlighted the Safe Utah smartphone app, a statewide service that provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program.  Since the app was unveiled in 2016, 86 planned school attacks have been stopped.  Utah and other states across the country are rolling out proven solutions that prevent and reduce student violence.

We must respect the leading role of the states in this space, and we must do what we can to ensure that proven, evidence-based solutions are available to protect all students nationwide.    The STOP School Violence Act will complement and magnify those efforts at the state and local level.  With a requirement that states and localities contribute to the cost of these programs, my bill will authorize $75 million in Fiscal Year 2018 and $100 million each year for the following 10 years.  In total, that’s more than $1 billion to secure our schools and train our students, teachers, and law enforcement.

Many of my colleagues have called for reforms and restrictions related to firearms—something this bill does not address.  Those are important discussions, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on these issues.

In the meantime, we need to work with what we have—and what we have in the STOP School Violence Act is good, commonsense legislation that can hundreds of lives. Now, I won’t pretend that my bill is a catch-all solution to the problem of school violence. It’s not. But it is a start. Indeed, this bipartisan proposal is the catalyst to a critical conversation that will take place in the weeks and months to come.

For far too long, we have allowed politics to get in the way of real reform. For far too long, we have been holed up in our partisan foxholes, ducking the difficult issues of the day in hopes that the problem of school violence would solve itself. For far too long, we have clung to our rhetorical weapons. But now is the time to lay those weapons aside. Now is the time to reconcile our differences for the good of our nation—and for the good of our children.

As I said last week, now is not the time for argument but for action. Rather than letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, I implore my friends on both sides of the aisle to come together for the safety of our children. Rather than resorting to recycled talking points, I ask my colleagues to heed Minority Leader Schumer’s call to “pass real legislation that makes a difference.”

Mr. President, I wish to emphasize the singularity of the opportunity we have in front of us. My bill represents a respite from the anger and acrimony that too often pervades our politics. It is a symbol of the great good we can accomplish when we come together in common cause. Already, dozens of my colleagues, from both the Left and the Right, have signed on to support this bill. The STOP Act is just the start we need to prevent violence in our schools. So let’s come together to get this done.

I yield the floor.