SIDNEY — In the wake of a recent shooting near a Lansing high school where three students and a fourth teenager were injured, Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, says legislation he has co-sponsored with Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, will be “invaluable” in helping to prevent such horrific events from occurring in the future.
Outman said as much on Thursday when he was a featured guest speaker on Lansing’s WILS Radio show to talk about the new “OK-2-SAY” system that will be implemented throughout the state when passed into law. He reiterated his sentiments again Monday during the first monthly Legislate Update of the autumn season at Montcalm Community College, stating he believes that tragic incidents, such as the shooting outside of Sexton High School Sept. 17, could have a better likelihood of prevention once the program in implemented.
“We think it’s an invaluable program and schools and law enforcement are really excited about it,” Outman said.
According to Outman, the legislation, which has come to be known as the “Michigan Student Safety Act,” will create the OK-2-SAY student safety hotline, where students or concerned citizens can report tips via the hotline, text message, email or website.
The hotline is intended to help prevent violence and tragedy before it occurs by encouraging confidential tip-sharing among students, parents, school employees and law enforcement officials.
The Legislation has received strong support statewide in the form of Senate Bill 374 and House Bill 4754.
SB 374 was introduced on May 21 in the state Senate and passed 38-0 on June 18.
HB 4754 is currently waiting to pass through the House Appropriations Committee and from there will need a vote from the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass with little to no opposition.
According to Outman, the idea for the hotline came out of Cadillac, where his brother Michael Outman, a school principal, and Michael Outman’s superintendent, Joann Spry, first asked of Emmons and then Outman to sponsor a bill.
Outman said Spry, who previously served as a school administrator in Colorado, wanted to bring a hotline to Michigan after watching the success of the “Safe-2-Tell” hotline that was developed after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
“Knowing the success of that statewide program, (Spry) requested that we implement something like that here,” Outman said. “This new hotline will be a completely anonymous hotline, not just for children, but adults too, to deal with a whole host of issues, not just school violence.”
Emmons said the program has worked effectively in Colorado and will be a great benefit to students and parents in Michigan.
“Truly, we think this is a way for parents to feel their children are in a safer position,” Emmons said. “The real-time aspect and the trained personnel, whether it’s a phone call, text or email, every medium will be covered. That’s how it works in Colorado, somebody is dispatched right away.”
The legislation was immediately backed by Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov.Brian Calley and also guarantees that the program is funded by the state, not by schools.
According to Outman, the program is projected to cost $3.5 million over the next four years, however, the program will be entirely funded through monies generated from court settlements paid to the state.
Outman said critics of the hotline have pointed out that Michigan already has a State Police hotline, however, he believes the current hotlines and outlets for students are ineffective.
“People said we already have a Michigan State Police hotline, but the problem is it wasn’t being utilized. The Michigan State Police hotline had little to no use, most people didn’t even know it existed.”
Emmons said she was disappointed the legislation was not signed into law in time for the 2013-2014 school year, but said she is confident it will aid immediately aid students once it passes through the House of Representatives and is signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
“The whole purpose for this is to be a real-time service,” she said. “If a child is being bullied and hiding in a restroom and scared, they can get help and have someone sent to them right away.”