Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday signed into law legislation designed to place more school resource officers in Tennessee public and private schools, funnel additional money into school security upgrades, and require every school to submit annual safety plans to the state.
The new law is among the few changes the Republican governor and the GOP-dominated Legislature agreed to make in response to a Nashville school shooting in March that killed six people.
Lee has called a special legislative session to consider passing legislation that would keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others. The special session — scheduled to start August 21 — comes after Republican lawmakers ignored the governor's initial request to take up the proposal in the final days of the regular session in April.
To date, Republican lawmakers have largely focused their support on the school safety package. They contend the changes will make private and public schools safer by making it more difficult for a possible attacker to break into school buildings.
"Nothing is more important than Tennessee students and teachers returning home from school safely each day," Lee said in a statement.
While the new laws received support from the state's handful of Democratic lawmakers, some argued that the state should not be pushing to transform schools into mini-fortresses and criticized GOP leaders for refusing to take up gun control proposals.
Lawmakers did, however, move to further protect gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits. That bill is awaiting action from the governor.
The six people who were killed during The Covenant School shooting included three 9-year-old children. Police have said the shooter, Audrey Hale, had been planning the massacre for months. Hale was killed by police. Officials have also said that the school did not have a security guard posted at the school.
Law enforcement officials are currently reviewing writings left behind by Hale. Yet in the weeks since the shooting, a growing chorus of Republican leaders have demanded those writings be publicly released in order to learn more about the motive — which critics have countered is a tactic to distract from the calls to make firearms more difficult for dangerous people to obtain.
The three children who were killed in the shooting were Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. The three adults were Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school, custodian Mike Hill, 61, and 61-year-old substitute teacher Cynthia Peak.
The legislation signed into law Wednesday:
— Requires private school security guards receive active shooter training prior to being posted at the school
— Requires every school district to establish threat assessment teams to better ensure students receive appropriate support services and are connected to behavioral health professionals
— Requires private and public schools to develop annual safety plans and submit them to the state.