House Dem leader announces school safety plan

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX (AP) -- The top Arizona House Democrat said Wednesday he'll push a $261 million school and community safety plan that would triple funding for school resource officers, add money for mental health treatment and require background checks on all buyers at gun shows, among other items.

The plan would be paid for by eliminating a tax credit for private school tuition popular among majority Republicans, closing tax loopholes and tapping into the state's budget surplus, Minority Leader Chad Campbell said.

About $161 million of the costs would come from expanding the state's Medicaid plan to adults earning 133 percent of the poverty line, the amount set in the federal health care overhaul, and fully funding services for seriously mentally ill adults who still wouldn't qualify under that plan. Expanding the school officer program, setting up a school safety improvement fund and doubling the number of school counselors would cost about $100 million a year.

Campbell acknowledged that virtually each part of the plan and its funding sources will be a tough sell in the Republican-controlled House, where historically Democratic-sponsored bills have fared poorly. He said the proposals should at least be considered, in light of the recent school shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

"It's time to take this thing head on and have an adult conversation about this issue, talk about it in reasonable tones, not rhetoric, talk about a constructive dialogue and avoid the partisan nature that this topic has had in the past several years," he said.

Among other gun control regulations, Campbell wants a law forcing police to seize guns from people who have a court-ordered protection issued against them and requiring person-to-person sales of assault-style rifles subject to background checks. He also wants the state's concealed weapons permit law reinstated. It was eliminated by the Legislature in 2010.

Campbell isn't asking for an assault weapons or high capacity magazine ban and said his proposals are modest.

"If you're a gun owner who doesn't have a criminal record and who doesn't have a mental health issue there's nothing for you to worry about," Campbell said.

Gov. Jan Brewer's spokesman has said she doesn't support restrictions on gun owner's rights, and both the Senate and House Republicans have repeatedly passed laws easing up on what few restrictions the state has on firearms.

Brewer is considering adding new money for school resources officers in her budget proposal, which is to be released next week.

A spokesman for House Republicans said the delegation had no immediate response to the proposal Wednesday.

Senate Democrats plan to announce they own proposals to address gun violence Thursday. They will include similar bills closing the so-call gun show loophole and repealing the seized firearms sale requirement for police agencies. Their plan also would ban high capacity magazines, something Campbell said was best left to the federal government.

Campbell was joined at a press conference announcing the proposal by leaders of the state teacher's union, school counselors organization and school resource officer's group.

Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill said the teacher group will strongly oppose proposals made by some to arm teachers or principals.

"Civilians, even well-trained, aren't enough," Morrill said. "They don't even begin to approximate what a school resource officer is and knows about a campus. And to arm teachers is absolutely antithetical to the role of educators in the lives of our students."

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