The sound of silence on Ducey’s school safety plan

By: - April 18, 2019 2:46 pm

Arizona students protest at the state Capitol on March 24, 2018, as part of the March for Our Lives movement. Photo by Chris Vena | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Note: This story has been updated to include additional comments from the Governor’s Office

Gov. Doug Ducey insists that he hasn’t abandoned the school safety plan that lawmakers rejected in 2018 and that he still plans to revive it this year, but legislative leaders say they haven’t heard a word about it since the earliest days of the session.

In his State of the State address in January, Ducey called on lawmakers to pass his Safe Arizona Schools Plan. The plan, introduced by the governor’s office last year in the wake of the devastating shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., aimed to prevent gun violence at schools. Among the plan’s provisions were funding for more school resource officers and counselors, a gun violence tip line and beefing up the state’s criminal history database to improve background checks.

The plan included controversial provision known as STOP orders, for Severe Threat Order of Protection. STOP orders would allow family, law enforcement or others to petition a judge to temporarily take away a person’s firearms pending a mental health review if they believe that person to be dangerous.

There was bipartisan opposition to the STOP orders, with Republicans deriding the proposal as infringing on Arizonans’ Second Amendment rights and Democrats panning it as an ineffective half-measure.

Since the opening day of this year’s session, the governor has not unveiled any new iterations of his plan. No lawmaker has sponsored legislation. And though the governor’s budget proposal includes some provisions of his 2018 plan, the STOP orders are nowhere to be seen.

Still, Ducey says he’s bringing his Arizona Safe Schools plan back this session.

“The Arizona Safe Schools plan is still a priority,” the governor told reporters on Wednesday.

That’s news to House and Senate Republican leadership.

Senate President Karen Fann said her staff has heard “not a peep” from the Ducey administration about the school safety plan since the governor’s January speech.

“That conversation hasn’t even happened over here, so I have no idea if he’s moving something forward or not,” said Fann, a Prescott Republican. “All quiet on the western front, as far as I’m concerned.”

House Speaker Rusty Bowers said he hasn’t heard anything from the Ducey administration, either.

“I’m not saying that they’re not doing something. We have elements that could be put into a plan. We’re happy to advance those. But we’re kind of running out of time,” he said.

Fann’s spokesman, Mike Philipsen, said there have been no discussions between Ducey and Fann’s staffs on the issue as well. Spokespeople for the House and Senate Democrats say they haven’t heard from the Governor’s Office about the plan, either.

And even if Ducey makes a late push to revive the Safe Arizona Schools Plan, it seems highly unlikely he’ll be able to muster enough support to pass it, as long as the STOP order provision remains.

“We want to make sure that we are, obviously, we’re safe, we keep our kids safe. But we also believe in our Second Amendment rights. So, it’s that very fine line that has to be walked to make this happen,” Fann said.

When asked about the status of his school safety plan on Wednesday, Ducey emphasized that budget negotiations haven’t been moving as quickly as he’d like. And the budget will likely be the key to several provisions of the governor’s plan.

Ducey’s budget proposal, which he released in January, included funding for other parts of the 2018 plan. The governor is seeking $9.3 million for an additional 83 school resource officers at Arizona public schools. And the budget plan includes $12 million over the next two years for schools to hire 112 new counselors and social workers.

There are roughly 1,700 public schools in Arizona.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for the governor, disputed the characterization from legislative leaders that there have been no discussions about the school safety plan.

He said the administration has for months worked with lawmakers and staff from legislative leadership, and that those discussions have occurred with both Republicans and Democrats. However, Ptak would not provide details about those discussions or say who was included.

Ptak noted that Ducey’s proposed budget includes funding for several key parts of the plan, and that those provisions have continually come up in budget discussions, with support from lawmakers in both parties. While Ptak wouldn’t say whether the governor is still pushing for the STOP orders to be part of his plan, he said the Ducey administration has had numerous discussions with the Legislature about keeping guns from people who shouldn’t have them.

“A lot of work has gone into this. Those discussions remain ongoing. We continue to work with staff and members on this. And it remains a priority,” Ptak said. “We’ve put forward a lot of ideas about keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. We’re working with legislators and staff on bringing some of those ideas to fruition.”

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”