Daily Digest: School safety and guns

Good morning and happy Thursday. Here's the Digest.

1. Researchers say a fresh approach to school safety is needed. Lockdown drills top the list of security measures Jillian Peterson believes schools need to drop. Peterson, a Hamline University criminology professor, thinks training the adults in school on lockdown procedures, de-escalation and suicide prevention should happen without involving the kids. The drills, she said, traumatize many students, and since most shootings come at the hands of current or former students, the routine may unwittingly offer a would-be shooter a blueprint on how to increase casualties. Minnesota law requires schools to run students and staff through five lockdown drills a year, meaning most Minnesota children will have rehearsed lockdowns more than 70 times by the time they graduate. Nationally, the Washington Post found more than 4 million children across the U.S. ran lockdowns last school year. Peterson and James Densley, a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University, say their research points toward the need to invest far more in mental health support in schools, though they are very careful to avoid associating mental health issues with school shootings. "The majority [of school shooters] threaten before they do it and even specifically say their plans, which is different than this idea that people who threaten are people who do it. We found that people who do it are also people who threaten," Peterson said. "So threats are really an important intervention point." Peterson wants to keep law enforcement involved, but she also said individualized, long-term mental health services need to be a part of dealing with violent threats. (MPR News)

2. Gazelka says he would allow hearing on gun bills under certain conditions. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a leading gun rights advocate, said Tuesday he would be willing to hear proposals to expand criminal background checks and adopt a “red flag” law if the House passes both bills this year. “It hasn’t been a priority of ours but what I will say is if the House passes universal background check and red flag laws off the floor, I am committed to giving those bills and other gun bills a hearing in the Senate,” Gazelka told the Star Tribune in an interview. The Nisswa Republican has previously said he would “do everything in my power” to block new gun control measures this session. Two Senate bills have yet to be heard ahead of Friday’s deadline to move legislation through committees. House Democrats have made enacting new gun laws a top priority this session, citing a sustained activist movement in the wake of last year’s high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., which took the lives of 17 people. Two House subcommittees have passed a pair of gun safety measures. One would expand criminal background checks to cover private gun transfers. The other would allow relatives or law enforcement to petition a judge to take firearms away from people determined to be a serious threat to themselves or others. (Star Tribune)

3. Conference committee reaches a deal on school snow days. Minnesota schools will catch a break for class cancellations due to inclement weather, under a deal that could get a final vote as soon as Thursday. House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement to forgive days off due to snow, cold or other health and safety reasons. Once signed — Gov. Tim Walz has voiced support for the concept — the bill will let school boards decide if they want to write off missed days without risk of financial repercussions from the state. It applies only to this school year. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said it will ensure that schools “are not penalized for the polar vortex.” Senate Education Committee Chair Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said it provides ample flexibility. “The three things that we all held dear were one protecting our kids from risky travels, then keeping our districts whole and then we hope they could keep their employees whole,” Nelson said. To receive their expected levels of state aid, districts would have to pay hourly employees for the missed time or give them a chance to make it up. Contractors such as bus companies also won protections from lost revenue in order to pay their employees. (MPR News)

4. Klobuchar pitches plan for infrastructure improvements. Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar is pitching an infrastructure plan she says will provide $1 trillion to fix roads and bridges, protect against flooding and rebuild schools, airports and other projects. The plan announced Thursday is the first policy proposal from the Minnesota senator since she joined the 2020 race with a snowy rally not far from where the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River in 2007. The plan calls for leveraging $650 billion in federal funding through public-private partnerships, bond programs and clean-energy tax incentives. It would restart the Build America Bonds program President Barack Obama's administration created to help stimulate the economy during the recession. About $400 billion of the $650 billion federal spending would come from raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 25 percent. The rate was cut from 35 percent to 21 percent in President Trump's 2017 tax bill. Klobuchar also calls for closing tax loopholes and imposing a "financial risk fee" on large banks. Klobuchar has criticized Trump for pledging to pass a "significant" infrastructure plan but not doing so. (AP)

5. Senator clarifies comments on insulin prices. No one should die from rationing prescription drugs they need to live. And if you get to the point where you’re having a seizure or going into insulin shock, you should go to the emergency room. That’s what state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said she meant in public comments this week that caused outcry from some, who took her comments as insensitive and suggesting that ER visits were somehow Benson’s policy solution to skyrocketing drug costs. That’s not what she meant, Benson said Wednesday.  “I didn’t phrase it well, and it’s a lesson that we all probably should learn from social media,” Benson told the Pioneer Press, as criticism that had begun the evening before continued, injecting emotional adjectives into an already complex debate among lawmakers over how best to deal with the problem of high drug costs. Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, put out a news release calling Benson’s comments “another callous and clueless health care remark from a Minnesota Republican.” (Pioneer Press)

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