School security funding dealt setback as part of gun-control bill

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

WASHINGTON—Legislation to provide $40 million a year to improve security in the nation’s schools has bipartisan support, but it was dealt a blow after the Senate rejected an amendment to which it was linked: expanded background checks on gun purchases.

The School Safety Enhancements Act of 2013 would authorize federal funding for state, local and tribal governments to improve security at elementary and secondary schools. Grants could be used to install metal detectors and surveillance equipment, train school personnel and students, and implement other safety measures.

The bill, a reauthorization of the Secure Our Schools Act of 2000, has support from the Security Industry Association and it had passed in committee. Originally sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the SOS measure was included as Title III of the background-check provision. That item went down to defeat in a 54-46 vote on April 17.

Marcus Dunn, director of government relations for SIA, said that Boxer’s office plans to bring up the SOS provision as a separate piece of legislation to try to get it passed.

“It started as a stand-alone bill, then it went to committee and got amended, then the Senate attached it [to the background-check legislation],” he told Security Systems News. “This is just considered a temporary setback. They will definitely bring it up again as a stand-alone.”

Dunn said efforts to pass the school security initiative recently got a boost from the National Rifle Association, which released a report by its National School Shield Task Force. While the NRA’s call to have armed officers in every school has generated a lot of opposition, other provisions in the report are far less controversial.

“There are recommendations to use surveillance equipment and controlled access, and perhaps audio, to make schools safer than they are today,” Dunn said. “There’s always a little cloud of dust that seems to follow the NRA, but there are a lot of options in there that make sense, at least from the industry’s perspective.”

On another security front, SIA is working to expand the deployment of Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) readers at the nation’s ports. In a notice of proposed rulemaking in March, the U.S. Coast Guard said mandatory installation of the biometric card readers should be limited for now to higher-risk facilities, or what Dunn called category A ports. SIA would like to see the requirement expanded to category B and C ports as well.

“They cite cost burdens to the [B and C] ports, and their risk assessment at this time is that they’re not on the priority list,” he said. “Our argument is that [those] ports need to be secured and the numbers that they used to determine the cost burden are incorrect. It’s very old information, and as we know when products are developed the price comes down, especially in the technology sector. Sometimes in six months’ time the price can drop dramatically.”

The rule as written would affect 532 facilities at an annual cost of $26.5 million, according to the Coast Guard. The deadline for comments is May 21, with publication of the final rule expected in 2014. If the final version is not acceptable, Dunn said SIA would go to Capitol Hill to try to get it changed legislatively.