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Speaker: Ainsworth bill to arm teachers scrapped this year

State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and State House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, during a State of the State Address in 2018. (ADAM BRASHER/THE AUBURN PLAINSMAN)

A bill that would have allowed teachers to be armed in classrooms across the state is dead for this session.

The bill, sponsored by Guntersville Republican Rep. Will Ainsworth, was one of the most prominent of several gun and school safety bills filed this session.

Filed three weeks ago, just a month before the Legislature is expected to sine die and end the session, the controversial bill had a steep hill to climb.

It didn’t make it to the top.

Leaders in the legislature — from the House speaker to the Senate president pro tempore — have been cautious about the calendar realities of passing gun bills this session, and McCutcheon was the more optimistic of the two.

But Tuesday House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said opposition from Democrats threatened to derail the session and led to the bill’s demise, though several Republicans — particularly in the Senate — had also expressed opposition to the measure.

“Although the bill was in a position to be considered yesterday, the Democratic opponents of the legislation were prepared to lock down the chamber to prevent its approval,” McCutcheon said. “There was also a great deal of misinformation being distributed to educators, school administrators, law enforcement agencies, and parents that needed to be corrected.”

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McCutcheon wasn’t clear what “misinformation” had been spread about the bill.

The House speaker, in his second session in the Legislature top role, said he expects the bill to make a reappearance during the next session.

“I can offer a personal guarantee that this issue will be revisited when the Legislature convenes its next session,” McCutcheon said.

The Legislature won’t return for a regular legislative session until March 2019. Lawmakers will have an extra month off next year during the first year of the quadrennium after the 2018 statewide general election.

Ainsworth’s HB435 isn’t the only gun bill that died this week. All of the other proposals — from both Democrats and Republicans — were also given a hypothetical death certificate after their sponsors admitted that it’s unlikely they’ll move forward with less than a week to go in this session.

Ainsworth was more forceful, calling on Gov. Kay Ivey to convene a special session of the Legislature later this year to revisit school safety proposals. It’s unlikely Ivey will call a special session given lawmakers are battling it out ahead of primaries scheduled for June 5 and a general election set for November.

Constitutionally, the Legislature has several more weeks left in the session, but lawmakers are expected to depart next week in order to get home and campaign. It’s typical for lawmakers to end an election-year session early.

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Nevertheless, McCutcheon and the bills’ sponsors say they are not abandoning them, and some school safety legislation has already passed or has a much better chance of making it out before the end of March.

“The House is deeply committed to school safety issues, and we are already passing legislation this session that allows retired law enforcement officers to serve as school resource officers, redirects state technology dollars to fund school security needs, and creates a permanent committee that will suggest school security improvements on an annual basis,” McCutcheon said.

The speaker said lawmakers are also researching how existing laws on the books could allow for changes to school safety, and he directed lawmakers to get feedback from their local school districts and law enforcement on how the Legislature could help. McCutcheon said the House won’t forget about the need for school safety and gun reform next year.

“As the next regular session approaches, we will be taking a look at all the pieces of the complex school security puzzle and come forward with a package of legislative proposals,” McCutcheon said. “Ensuring that the children parents send to school in the morning return to their home safely in the evening will always remain among the top priorities of the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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