Governor backs funds to improve school security

Martinez planning to approve legislation earmarking $40M


Gov. Susana Martinez said Tuesday she would sign legislation earmarking $10 million annually for four years to improve security at New Mexico schools.

The bill comes as the nation grapples with how to respond to campus shootings that have upended the sense of safety in the daily routines of many students and parents. While New Mexico leaders have done little to restrict access to firearms, as has been proposed elsewhere, lawmakers this year rallied around proposals to devote more money for school security.

Under Senate Bill 239, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, schools can apply to the state starting this year for funds to pay for improvements such as fences, intercom systems and door locks.

Lawmakers and school administrators alike highlighted what they argued was the need for basic security improvements at some campuses after a gunman killed two students and himself at Aztec High School in December. One substitute teacher who did not have a key to lock the door of her classroom was credited with saving lives by shepherding students into an adjoining room, where they were able to barricade the door.

The issue gained new urgency toward the end of the legislative session when a gunman killed 17 people at a school in Florida.

New Mexico schools can already draw on infrastructure funding portioned out by the Legislature and on local funds, such as bonds. For example, Santa Fe Public Schools has upgraded security devices, including video cameras and school access, over the past few years.

This bill will not replace those funds but will amount to a big boost for such expenses over the next few years.

Still, the measure will not quiet broader debates over school security and gun control.

"This legislation is important, however it is just one step in keeping our students safe at school," Martinez said in a statement.

The Republican governor has recommended school districts work with retired law enforcement officers to increase security at campuses.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the only Republican candidate for governor, has proposed federal funding to install a metal detector in every school. The congressman also has said he would support allowing the concealed carry of firearms on school campuses.

Still, observers lament there is scant evidence of which particular security measures might help prevent the sort of mass shootings that have rattled the country in recent months.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich has called for banning so-called assault weapons.

The governor's announcement came on the same day she was scheduled to return to New Mexico after visiting Utah for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association.

Wednesday is the deadline for Martinez to approve legislation passed during this year's 30-day session, including the state's $6.3 billion budget with pay raises for state employees and teachers.

Any bills she does not sign Wednesday will be automatically vetoed.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican­.com.

Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.