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Minnesota leaders promise school safety funds

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says that lawmakers should hurry and pass a school safety bill after a Friday, May 18, 2018 deadly Texas school shooting. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, left, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka tell reporters on Friday, May 18, 2018, that they plan to rush a school safety bill. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL -- A deadly Texas school shooting turned Minnesota safe school legislation into a top priority.

"Emergency safe school funding is my top priority for the next 56 hours," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, tweeted late Friday afternoon, May 18, looking ahead to the mandatory end of the legislative session this weekend.

In the hours after the Santa Fe, Texas, shooting, Gazelka, other legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton agreed that the Legislature must pass school safety aid.

The decision came as they discussed how to wrap up the 2018 Legislature by Monday. They agreed to push the school safety measure to House and Senate votes.

Gazelka told fellow senators that he would try to increase the $28 million contained a Senate bill. He and Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said they would rather get the legislation right than rush its passage on Friday.

Dayton sent Minnesota's sympathies to Santa Fe, Texas, where a 17-year-old male is suspected in the morning shooting that left many dead and injured in the latest American mass shooting.

A similar Florida shooting just before the Minnesota Legislature began this year prompted several proposals, but none have passed.

Pressure mounted Friday, with high school students up to senior citizens demonstrating at the Capitol in favor of gun control, even though Republicans say no such measures will pass.

A group of Twin Cities high schoolers who have been lobbying for gun control bills since the Florida shooting said they will work to oust lawmakers who do not support gun control.

"My peers across the country died senselessly," Devin Bauart said, tears filling her eyes.

She said she appreciates the efforts to make schools safer, "but they are not doing it correctly."

The students say that to keep schools safe state officials need to keep guns out of would-be shooters' hands.

Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, brought up the issue in the Senate, complaining his gun control bills were not considered.

"How much longer must we wait?" he asked. "Will we wait until there is a school slaughter in Minnesota again?"

Gazelka said "my heart goes out to those folks," but the shotgun apparently used in Texas would not have been banned under bills introduced in Minnesota.

The Senate leader said provisions to provide mental health aid to potential shooters and making schools safer are more important.

While school safety rose to become the top priority, other issues were being discussed, mostly behind closed doors. Negotiators appeared to be nearing completion of budget changes. However, Dayton gave Republican legislative leaders a list of 116 things "objectionable" provisions he wants removed from their bills, making it unclear what can be accomplished this weekend.

Protesters of many types showed up at the Capitol Friday. Among them were people who want the state to do more to fight an opioid drug epidemic and people who oppose rebuilding the Line 3 crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.

Other demonteraters complained that lawmakers have not passed legislation to curb elder abuse in nursing homes and other facilities.

Most of the most important issues brought up during the entire session are waiting for a vote in the final two days, many of them lumped into one bill that meshes together spending and policy provisions.

But the Texas shooting focused attention on school safety.

The Capitol day started with a previously scheduled news conference promoting a bullet-proof glass that could be used to make schools safer.

"We know that this Legislature has been laser-focused on school safety," Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said at the glass news conference

Nelson sponsors a bill that includes more than $28 million for schools to improve safety, but also allows them to use an existing authority to levy taxes for safety changes.

"Senate Republicans are laser focused on safe schools," Nelson said.

Dayton disputed that, complaining that the GOP would not consider gun control measures.

"It's one thing to prevent somebody from coming into a school, which is vitally important; it's another thing to prevent them from getting their hands on a gun when they shouldn't have it," Dayton said. "I don't expect there's going to be anything there, and that will be a serious omission, but it's important we find something we can agree on."

What Minnesota does to protect schools

Minnesota agencies help schools with preventing and recovering from traumatic incidents such as mass shootings.

The Minnesota School Safety Center, part of the Public Safety Department, offers emergency planning guidance to schools. It also conducts three or four safety assessments each week.

The center's work deals with all types of emergency training.

Public Safety officials say that from January through April of this year, the center has conducted 1,480 hours of training for 870 participants. Last year, training was presented in more than 200 schools.

For school safety, the center advises on how entry points can be secured, improve vision inside buildings and add security systems like cameras and locks.

Minnesota law requires all school districts to have a safety plan and conduct emergency drills.

The Education Department's School Safety Technical Assistance Center helps school on emotional recover after a crisis.

The center offers training and information about how to talk with students, staff and families about a tragedy. The department's communications office helps districts with managing social media and other communication about a crisis.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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