Va. forms bipartisan committee to strengthen school safety; guns not part of the discussion

It’s the first select committee formed in the House in more than 150 years.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Less than a month after a mass shooting at a Florida high school, Virginia lawmakers are looking to strengthen safety at schools in Virginia.

House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) announced the Select Committee on School Safety Thursday morning.

It’s the first select committee formed in the House in more than 150 years.

The committee was prompted by the shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the nationwide conversation about how to prevent something like that from happening again.

“I think people are just extremely concerned about the safety of their students in school,” said Cox, a former teacher.

Cox said, despite efforts in recent years to make schools safer, the massacre in Parkland shows that Virginians need to be “ever-vigilant” when it comes to school safety.

Members from both political parties will look at things like emergency preparedness, behavioral health and improving security.

Cox will chair the committee. He’s also appointed 11 other Republicans and 10 Democrats, some specializing in education, courts and health.

Members will review state and local policies on school safety and make recommendations to the General Assembly for the 2019 session.

Cox made it clear guns will not be part of the committee’s discussions. He said it would politicize the process.

House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said, while Democrats will participate, the committee doesn’t go far enough.

“School safety is a legitimate issue,” he said. “It just can’t distract from what our primary goal is — and that is to get some reasonable, common sense gun safety measures passed out of the General Assembly.”

He said more than 50 bills related to guns were killed this session.

Toscano is continuing to push for universal background checks, banning bump stocks and raising the legal age to buy certain weapons.

“The person who went into Parkland went into that school with an assault weapon. He was under the age of 21. Why should he be able to buy that weapon? And why are we not discussing that issue rather than trying to basically harden schools as if they are some kind of military operation?” asked Toscano.

Cox said a gun debate would stunt progress. He believes staying “laser focused” will help productivity.

“We can grandstand I guess on where people are on guns, etc. We’re just not going to move the ball that way,” said Cox. “So our feeling was let’s do what’s doable. Let’s do it quickly. Let’s have some more results. Let’s not play politics with it.”

The committee will give its recommendations by mid-December.

The members of the Select Committee will be: Kirk Cox, Steve Landes, Chris Jones, Tommy Wright, Rob Bell, Danny Marshall, Todd Gilbert, Chris Peace, Barry Knight, Roxann Robinson, Israel O’Quinn, Nick Rush, Vivian Watts, Mark Sickles,

David Toscano, Charniele Herring, Luke Torian, Paul Krizek, Steve Heretick, Mike Mullin, Jeff Bourne and Schuyler VanValkenburg.