FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Parents of two slain Kentucky teenagers made emotional pleas Thursday for the state to put more money into protecting students as lawmakers began advancing a school safety measure.
As the Senate Education Committee took up the measure that looms as this year's top legislative priority, the parents of Bailey Holt and Preston Cope told lawmakers there should be no higher priority than protecting children. The two 15-year-olds were killed and many more were injured in the shooting at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky. A teenage classmate of the victims is charged with murder and assault in the Jan. 23, 2018, attack.
"We have a responsibility to protect our children," Brian Cope, Preston's father, told the Senate panel. "We can't protect them from the world. But for eight hours a day, we should be able to let our children go to school and learn and not be looking over their shoulder and worried what's going to happen, is something going to happen?"
The committee later unanimously advanced the measure, which calls for hiring a state school security marshal to bolster oversight of school-safety efforts by local school districts.
The measure also sets a state goal of putting more school resource officers and guidance counselors in schools as deterrents to school violence, but only as soon as funding becomes available. The sweeping measure could be voted on by the full Senate as soon as Friday. Senate passage would send the legislation to the House.
Lawmakers say that funding will have to wait until next year's legislative session, when they will put together Kentucky's next two-year budget.
Brian Cope told reporters that he'll be back to press for that funding.
"We will be fighting until I have my last breath," he said after the committee hearing. "We have to make this top priority over everything."
The bill's supporters acknowledged that significant funding will be needed to carry out the measure's goals.
Republican Sen. Max Wise, the bill's lead sponsor, said when that decision comes, lawmakers will have to decide "is this worth putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to school safety."
When introducing the victims' parents, an emotional Sen. Danny Carroll said the shooting in Marshall County had left "scars that will not go away." He called the bill a "good starting point."
"Nothing will ever fix what happened to these families," said Carroll, whose district includes Marshall County. "Nothing will bring their kids back. The best we can do is to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen again."
As the parents told lawmakers they were counting on them to better protect schools statewide, they also recounted the anguish they've lived with since the shooting.
"We relive January 23rd every single day," said Secret Holt, whose daughter, Bailey, was killed.
Brian Cope said the hiring of a school security marshal would provide accountability. He also praised the proposal to bolster the presence of school resource officers in schools as a deterrent.
"You can't hide from bullets behind a desk or a closed door," he said. "You have to have some way of fighting back."
He also talked about the need for a statewide school safety fund to assist counties that lack the financial means to hire the additional school resource officers or guidance counselors.
Since the shooting in Marshall County, the school district has installed eight metal detectors at the high school plus two each for the districts' two middle schools, Marshall County schools Superintendent Trent Lovett said in an interview last month. The district hired four additional school resource officers and two mental health counselors. They also banned backpacks at the high school and middle schools
The legislation is Senate Bill 1.