Senate advances GOP bill paving the way for school ‘guardians’ Skip to content

Senate advances GOP bill paving the way for school ‘guardians’

GOP senator says he wishes legislation would fund school resource officers

Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) listens to debate on one of his bills. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Despite opposition from Republicans and Democrats, a GOP-backed measure that paves the way for school districts to hire “guardians” to fill vacant law enforcement officer roles on school campuses passed out of the Kentucky Senate Tuesday. 

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by  Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) builds upon his 2019 School Safety and Resiliency Act that was enacted by the General Assembly with bipartisan support. His latest piece of legislation has what he describes as  a “layered approach” that he says strengthens school security measures while broadening support for mental health resources in schools. 

The 2019 legislation was introduced in response to the 2018 mass shooting at Marshall County High School that killed two students and injured others.

On Tuesday, the seven Democratic senators were joined by Republican Sens. Danny Carroll, John Schickel, and Whitney Westerfield in opposing the bill. Twenty-eight GOP senators voted in favor of the bill. 

The provisions that would establish a school “guardians” program have received the most attention. Those who could be certified as a guardian are honorably discharged military veterans and retired or former law enforcement officers. School districts may have them in schools to fill in for vacant School Resource Officers, a type of sworn law enforcement officer that is required in schools. 

“In no way is the guardian replacing important roles that our school resource officers are doing for our school systems. The guardian is not an arresting authority. They are simply a stopgap measure to help a school district that right now may not be able to provide an SRO,” Wise said before adding that the guardians program would not begin until the 2025-26 school year. 

Other states have similar programs. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, Florida established a school guardian program. 

Wise previously said 600 campuses do not have SROs for various reasons, primarily lack of funding and job applicants. Senate Bill 2 does not provide funding for schools to hire SROs or guardians.

A few Democrats spoke against the bill. Sen. Reggie Thomas (D-Lexington) who supported the bill in a committee last week, said on the Senate floor he could not vote for the bill and urged his colleagues to take measures that would more directly address gun violence and violence in schools. 

Carroll had voted against the bill in the committee after raising concerns that law enforcement has had too little input.  He represents Marshall County and is a former police officer. 

“I regret that we’re doing this instead of appropriating the money for the districts to hire the SROs they need,” Westerfield said while explaining his no vote. 

Westerfield said  he hopes the House considers adding money to the bill. He also said the bill doesn’t answer how a guardian works with school boards, district employees, and SROs, and what authority they would have. 

Wise filed a floor amendment to his legislation that specified that anyone who has been convicted of indecent exposure would not be eligible to become a school guardian.  

Two floor amendments from Sen. Lindsey Tichenor (R-Smithfield) were withdrawn. They would have required schools to post signs that said people who were “armed and trained” were on school premises.

Since the 2019 law, the General Assembly has passed a few other pieces of legislation regarding school safety. In 2022, the General Assembly passed a law requiring an SRO in each Kentucky school but provided no funding for the mandate.

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Written by McKenna Horsley. Cross-posted from the Kentucky Lantern.



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Kentucky Lantern

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service. We’re based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.

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