By Katja Timm
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam has vetoed a bill to create a new public-employee category called “school protection officers.”
Supporters of the legislation said the officers would help improve security in Virginia’s public schools. But Northam said the bill failed to clearly define the officers’ duties and credentials.
Introduced by Del. Robert Thomas, R-Stafford, HB 2142 defined a school protection officer as a “retired law-enforcement officer hired on a part-time basis by the local law-enforcement agency to provide limited law-enforcement and security services to Virginia public elementary and secondary schools.”
During the General Assembly’s recent session, the bill was approved 53-45 by the House and 26-13 by the Senate.
Virginia law currently provides for two types of officers in schools — school resource officers and school security officers.
In announcing his veto Tuesday, Northam said school resource officers and school security officers “have well-defined duties and responsibilities set forth in the Code of Virginia and are required to meet stringent training standards” administered as part of the certification process carried out by the Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Thomas’ bill did not specify what security services a school protection officer would provide.
It said only that the Department of Criminal Justice Services would “establish compulsory minimum training standards for all persons employed as school protection officers. Such training may be provided by the employing law-enforcement agency and shall be graduated and based on the type of duties to be performed.”
That raised concerns from Northam, who said duties and training could vary greatly from school to school since each local law enforcement agency has different regulations and standards.
As an alternative to school protection officers, Northam noted that his Student Safety Work Group had recommended increased training for school resource officers. Legislators passed and the governor has signed two bills — HB 2609 and SB 1130 — that mandate that all school resource officers must undergo more training.
By approving those bills, the General Assembly endorsed “the position that more, not less, training will better serve Virginia’s students and schools,” the governor’s veto message said.
“Allowing a new type of officer with undefined duties and indeterminate training will not serve to make Virginia’s students and schools safer. Therefore, there is no compelling reason to create school protection officers when Virginia law already provides for two types of trained officers to provide security in the Commonwealth’s schools.”
HB 2142 is one of 17 bills vetoed by Northam. The General Assembly will reconvene next Wednesday to consider overriding the vetoes. It takes a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a veto.