Newtown shootings raise profile of debate on school security

Update on SIA’s efforts to get port funds released
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

WASHINGTON—The fiscal cliff has been averted. But the vertigo it induced is still being felt on Capitol Hill, with school security thrown into the budget mix as the 113th Congress got down to business in January.

While lawmakers acted at the end of 2012 to prevent Bush-era tax breaks from expiring for most Americans, defense and other program cuts weren’t addressed. That task was pushed into 2013, along with new debate on raising the debt ceiling.

The latest round of budget deliberations will be closely watched by the security industry. Marcus Dunn, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, said that SIA “could see itself on the side of a business advocacy coalition if corporate taxes or unfavorable program cuts are attempted.”

SIA’s work this session will include school safety, which Dunn said the group had identified as one of the top five issues for the new Congress even before the shootings in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. SIA has a history of advocating for funding for the Safe Schools Act, which falls under the Department of Justice’s COPS program.

“Honestly, our focus was more on foreign terrorist groups, and our approach was to address these concerns with the Department of Homeland Security and local school districts,” Dunn told Security Systems News. “However, as we have tragically seen too many times, terrorism doesn’t always come from abroad.”

SIA anticipates working with a coalition of public safety, education and government groups to explore how the electronic security industry “can contribute to a holistic solution and/or deterrence [for] future, and unfortunately, probable events in our nation’s schools,” Dunn said.

SIA is hoping that President Obama will mention the role of electronic security in school safety when he delivers his State of the Union address on Feb. 12.

“We are currently discussing a letter to the president with our Executive Committee and relevant working groups and subcommittees,” Dunn said in mid-January. “We certainly understand the emotion and the fact there are social issues and other policy that will have to be part of the school safety discussion, but for our part, we feel strongly that we should have input on whatever government response is needed and expected.”

Dunn said SIA and members of the American Association of Port Authorities met with the bipartisan PORTS (Ports Opportunity, Renewal, Trade and Security) Caucus in December to discuss a funding waiver and the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC.

“This was a good meeting for introducing SIA to those who didn’t know us and to talk about the Port Security Grant Program, as well as the impact of TWIC and what the [congressional] members who have ports in their districts are hearing about the program,” he said.

The waiver for ports would free up funding for improvements [LINK to legislative roundup that covered port security issue] through the Department of Homeland Security. The money has been held up by a provision requiring recipients to match 25 percent of each grant.