RICHMOND, Va. -- Less than a month after a school shooting in Florida, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) announced that a select committee of lawmakers would review and improve security at Virginia school buildings.
It is the first select committee formed in the Virginia House of Delegates in more than 150 years, according to the Speaker's office.
"The committee’s scope of work will be limited to strengthening emergency preparedness, hardening school security infrastructure, implementing security best practices, deploying additional security personnel, providing additional behavioral health resources for students, and developing prevention protocols at primary and secondary institutions across the Commonwealth," Cox wrote in a letter to the House Clerk forming the committee.
However, Virginia Democrats argued the scope of the committee missed the point in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In an interview with reporters Thursday, Cox said hot-button topics like gun control or arming teachers would not be part of the committee's discussion because those issues would politicize the process.
"I think people are extremely concerned about the safety of their students in schools. We felt like that was doable," said Cox, who taught secondary education for more than 30 years. "What security systems can be put in? As a teacher, what kind of resources do you need to deal with a kid in crisis? Those are things we can deal with immediately, and that's what I'm after. "
A CBS 6 investigation found that state auditors recently reported issues with current school safety procedures in Virginia. The inspectors found that Virginia law enforcement does not have access to current floor plans at many schools, one out of three schools do not have school security personnel on site, and the majority state mandated threat assessment teams at schools had not been trained.
CBS 6 asked Speaker Cox whether concerns over the current state of school security in Virginia would be addressed by the select committee. Cox said providing more funding for school security and making sure employees are vigilant in enforcing existing security procedures would be part of the committee's work.
"I think there is a seriousness about this issue that really wasn't there before," Cox said.
Democrats said they would take part in the committee because school safety is a high priority for everyone, but Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said his party would not allow it to distract from what they see as the real problem, access to firearms.
"We don't need bump stocks, we don't need assault weapons being purchased by kids who are under 21, we need universal background checks. These are at least three things that are reasonable that can be done right now without having a select committee," Toscano said. ""While we'll participate, we're also going to be taking to the voters and our constituents the concerns about gun safety measures."
Toscano said more than 50 "reasonable gun safety measures" were defeated by Republican controlled subcommittees this session.
Local grandmother Cecelia Grimes loves to visit her oldest grandson at his Henrico elementary school.
Grimes said her "heart ached" for the students, teachers, and parents at Stoneman Douglas.
Grimes said she was glad lawmakers were taking school safety seriously; however, she said cautioned that an enjoyable student experience should not be sacrificed in the name of security.
"[Students] need to got to school to be with their friends, get an education, and enjoy life. They're too young to feel like they are in prison. They're kids. Kids need to be kids," Grimes said.
The House Select Committee on School Safety begins meeting in May. The legislative package the committee puts together would be introduced in the 2019 General Assembly session.