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Safe schools en route to Senate floor

April 16, 1996
By: Joseph Morton
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mel Carnahan's "safe schools" legislation survived the Senate Education Committee Tuesday with few revisions.

Committee members voted out the bills after making some minor changes, but ignored one part of the governor's original proposal - guaranteed felony penalties for assaulting school employees.

These penalties were taken out of the House version of the bills passed last month. After Tuesday's committee meeting, the assault language will still be absent from the bills when they reach the Senate floor.

Chris Sifford, spokesman for the governor, said Carnahan will try to get the felony assault provisions back into the legislation before it comes up for final passage.

"We're still going to work to get that done," Sifford said. "Otherwise they've essentially passed what we wanted."

One part of the governor's legislation with which the committee didn't approve required all school districts to honor student suspensions from other districts. The committee voted to make the honoring of such suspensions optional.

"Optional is the way to go," said Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico. "Just because we remove a child from one school district doesn't mean the state loses its responsibility to educate that child."

The committee also removed a provision requiring school districts to distribute their discipline policy to parents. Old law requires the school districts to make their policy available to parents in the superintendent's office.

Some changes were more in line with the governor's original direction, including an amendment sponsored by Sen. Bill Clay, D-St. Louis, that would expand certain parts of the legislation that deal with alternative schools. Clay's amendment includes after school and summer school programs in the definition of "alternative education."

"These are just added to the list of positive programs," Clay said. It will be up to legislators working on appropriation bills to provide the money for the programs, Clay said.

Even though Carnahan's teacher-assault provisions are not included in the current version of the bill, committee members did insert two other sections dealing with felony penalties.

Under the committee's version, vandalizing school buses will become a class D felony. Ted House, D-St. Charles, sponsored the amendment after citing an incident in his district in which someone shot out 50 school bus windows.

"Prosecutors say it's almost impossible for them to go after these people unless it's a felony offense," House said.

The committee also voted to make make false bomb threats to a school a class D felony.

"Schools have to clear out all the kids and shut down for the rest of the day when these things happen," House said. "They tend to pop up on days when there are a lot of midterms or finals."