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Tempers flare on Senate floor over school safety measures

Posted by Karen DeWitt on
WMHT/Matt Ryan

Things got heated on the New York State Senate floor this week over a debate on bills that majority party Republicans say will improve school safety. Meanwhile, the state Assembly Tuesday passed its own set of gun control bills.

New York already has some of the strictest gun control measures in the nation, known as the SAFE Act, but since the Florida shootings, lawmakers from both major parties say there’s more to do to prevent school shootings.

The bills by Senate Republicans, introduced on Monday,  would redefine school shooters as terrorists, require more active shooter drills at schools, and implement sophisticated scanner technology to detect any guns that someone might try to bring in to a school.   

Many of the measures were approved with little debate, by all of the Republicans and several Democrats.

But tempers flared over a measure to issue a new state license plate, called the “Guardians for Schools” plate. It would raise money to help pay for armed guards at schools, mental health counseling, and security cameras at schools.

Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan called the bill “meaningless”.

“It is so hare-brained to think that we are actually attempting to address the serious issue of gun violence with a new license plate,” Hoylman said. “I am compelled to vote no.”

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Jim Tedisco from Schenectady, was angered by the remarks. He accused Democrats of having a double standard. He says the Democrats do not object to armed guards at the State Capitol, yet some Democrats voted against the school safety enhancement measures. 

“Hypocrites! Shameless!” Tedisco shouted. “You want our law enforcement officials in the LOB (Legislative Office Building) and the Capitol to protect you , but don’t put them in the schools.”

Senate Deputy Democratic Leader Michael Gianaris, from Queens, called the license plate bill “embarrassing”  in the face of the mass shootings,  but says he’s reluctantly a supporter.

“I hope it makes you happy at the end of the day,” Gianaris said. “Because you are doing nothing to protect our children with this nonsense.”

The Senate GOP bills would not limit the purchase or sale of any guns, or impose new requirements for background checks. Democrats in the Senate for a second time proposed gun control bills, including banning teachers from carrying firearms at school, but the amendments were voted down, mostly along party lines.

Meanwhile, in the State Assembly, Democrats, who lead that house, passed a series of bills similar to ones backed by Senate Democrats. They include extending the three day waiting period for background checks to ten days and establishing an extreme risk protection order. It would temporarily take away the guns of people deemed a potential danger to themselves or others. Another measure would ban the possession of bump stocks, the devices that convert semi-automatic weapons into virtual machine guns, and were used to kill 58 people in Las Vegas last year. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says his members don’t want to wait for another mass shooting.

 “This is not normal,” Heastie said. “And it has to end.”  

Heastie says he knows that for now, the measures are not going to advance in the Senate, but he says he hopes that the tide is changing for gun control laws. And he credits the “brave” Parkland Florida students, who are speaking out, for that.

“Maybe after our Republican colleagues start to listen, they may change,” Heastie said.  

At least one GOP Senator is changing her position on gun control measures. Senator Elaine Phillips, a Republican from Long Island, said in a statement on her website that she wants to ban military-style assault weapons, and bump stocks, and enact stricter background checks. She says as a mother of three daughters, she believes now is the time to act. 

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