Bill allowing teachers to carry weapons passes House by party-line vote, amendment removes BOE control

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates engaged in yet another contentious debate on Wednesday, this time over HB 4299 – a bill designed to expand authorization for the carrying of concealed handguns in public schools. 

Introduced by Del. Doug Smith, R-Mercer, HB 4299 seeks to permit K-12 teachers – and other staff members – to carry concealed handguns, and to allow them to be designated as school protection officers (SPO), provided the county board of education chooses to participate in the SPO program. The bill would allow for an unlimited number of SPO’s in each county school district. 

Before debate began on the bill proper, however, House members considered an amendment which would force county school boards to participate in the SPO program.

Under Del. Geoff Foster’s, R-Putnam, amendment, if a teacher is eligible and applies to be an SPO, the county school board would no longer have a say in whether that individual carries a concealed handgun onto school property. 

Del. Andy Shamblin, R-Kanawha, rose in opposition of the amendment, saying, “I support the bill, but I think the amendment takes the bill and turns it from a permissive ‘may,’ to a mandatory ‘shall.’”

“These school board members are elected,” Shamblin continued. “They’re chosen by their community members, and they should have the right to opt into this program if they determine that it is beneficial to them, or to choose not to participate if it is within their judgment that it isn’t.”

“I think we need to respect local authority – local control,” Shablin added. “I support a bill that’s permissive, and the amendment makes it mandatory.”

Speaking in favor of the amendment was Del. Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh, who said, “If you like this bill […], then you will support this amendment.”

Kirby argued that without the amendment, the bill would “merely change some ink on a piece of paper,” and have no tangible impact.

“We all know our local school boards,” Kirby added. “From my estimation, we might be lucky to get half-dozen to actually implement the policy that we’re looking to pass. […] We already know what’s going to happen (if the amendment doesn’t pass) – the majority of our school boards are going to deny each and every application.”

“If we allow it to be ‘quote-unquote’ permissive with the school boards, then you might as well not even pass this bill,” Kirby noted. 

Foster’s amendment was adopted by a vote of 70 to 21. 

A second amendment, one which would provide a one-time bonus of $25,000 to any eligible school employee who applies to be an SPO and completes the required training, was proposed by Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio.

“My amendment arms teachers with something they actually want – money,” Fluharty said. “The bill is essentially forcing teachers to work a second job without any money. I think that if we’re going to do this, they should at least be rewarded.”

Speaking against the amendment was original bill sponsor, Del. Smith, who said, “This goes beyond the entire intent of the bill, which is teachers and staff volunteering for the program.”

Fluharty’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 87 to 13. All Democratic House members voted in favor, as did Delegates Shamblin, and Walter Hall, R-Kanawha. 

Once debate began on the bill proper, Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, questioned Smith about transparency and public disclosure of designated SPO’s.

“Justice and Community Services (JCS) will have the list of all the people (SPO’s) by school district, and they can give that out to law enforcement,” Young said. “Does the Department of Education have that list?”

“No,” replied Smith. “The principals and the county superintendents will have it.”

“Will there ever be any way for us (legislature) or anybody else (parents) to know how many of these SPO’s there are?” Young then asked.

“No,” Smith again replied. “That’s for the safety of the teacher that’s concealed carrying, and for the safety of the students.” 

Young then expressed her opposition to the bill, noting, “I worry that this bill is a little reactive.”

“If I don’t know where the guns are in my young children’s school, that scares me,” Young added. “It scares me a lot.”

The House of Delegates passed HB 4299 by a party-line vote of 89 to 11. The bill will now be reported to the Senate for further consideration.

RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HB 4299 as additional information is made available. 

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