Politics

The parents of two teenagers killed during a shooting at Marshall County High School last year testified on Thursday in favor of a bill that seeks to improve safety in Kentucky schools.

Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, both sophomores, died on January 23, 2018 after police say a fellow student took his step-father’s pistol from a closet at home and opened fire on a group of students before school started.

A year after the incident, Kentucky lawmakers have proposed a bill that would encourage local school districts to hire more armed guards and mental health counselors.

Brian Cope told the Kentucky Senate Education Committee that he thought the legislation would help make schools safer.

“I would give everything I had, all my worldly possessions, to have my son Preston back. I know that’s not in God’s plan,” Cope said. “I feel that God is using this evil that happened to Bailey and Preston and somehow turning that into good.”

Legislative leaders say the bill is a top priority. It calls for hiring a statewide school security marshal to oversee school safety and would require schools to have one counselor for every 250 students. The measure would also require some school staff to take active shooter training.

A separate bill would provide health insurance for retired police officers who work as school resource officers. But lawmakers say that funding for the measure will not be considered this year and will have to be taken up when the next budget is written in 2020.

Sen. Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville and the bill’s primary sponsor, said lawmakers need to make the decision to fund the safety measure.

“I understand we are in very difficult times and a budget with pension issues and everything else we are facing across the commonwealth. We have to say is this worth putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to school safety,” Wise said.

In the wake of the tragedy last year, some state lawmakers advocated for arming teachers in an effort to combat future shooters. The measure did not advance.

Other lawmakers have proposed requiring parents to lock up their guns if they live with a child. Gov. Matt Bevin appeared to agree with that concept last summer, but has declined to advocate for it.

Secret Holt, mother of Bailey, said on Thursday that she was in favor of anything to help makes schools safer.

“Bailey was such a special child. I had no idea that morning when I kissed her bye would be my last,” Holt said. “We’re supportive of any change you can provide for school safety.”

The school safety bill passed out of committee on Thursday and is now eligible for a full vote in the Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.