Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed a $230 million school safety funding package into law aimed at enhancing security in public and private schools in the wake of the mass shooting at a Nashville school in March.
The bill, known as House Bill 322, was initially introduced prior to the attack on Covenant School in Nashville that resulted in the deaths of three 9-year-old students and three adults.
Following the shooting, the bill’s budget and scope increased significantly. While the original version allocated $30 million for 122 Homeland Security agents to serve students in select public and private schools, the new version will fund armed school resource officers in all public schools. In addition, the bill allots funds improved physical safeguards at schools, along with greater access to mental health services for students.
Lee emphasized the importance of ensuring the safety of Tennessee students and teachers in a press release.
“Nothing is more important than Tennessee students and teachers returning home from school safely each day,” the governor stated. “Every year since 2019, we’ve worked with the General Assembly to prioritize school safety, and this year, we’ve passed significant measures to fund an armed SRO for every public school, enhance mental health support and boost physical security at public and private schools across Tennessee.”
The financial provisions of the bill will go into effect on July 1, coinciding with the start of the new fiscal year.
Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker, expressed his satisfaction with the progress made in school security in recent years and acknowledged the need for further action.
“But more needed to be done, and we answered that call this session,” McNally said a news release. “Hardening security at our public and private schools is no longer just a priority, it is an imperative. … This historic investment makes clear our state’s commitment to keeping our schools safe.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican from Crossville, noted the substantial funding allocated to school and student safety, emphasizing the noticeable protections it would provide.
“Our schools, staff and teachers will now have more resources at their disposal to support the physical, mental and emotional health of all Tennessee students,” he said.
Sexton also mentioned ongoing discussions with lawmakers and residents to explore additional improvements and identify the best strategies for maintaining the safety of children and schools.
In addition to signing the school safety funding package, Lee announced that he would call for a special legislative session on guns to be held on August 21. During the regular legislative session, he proposed an extreme risk order of protection process aimed at preventing mentally ill individuals and those deemed potentially dangerous from accessing firearms. The proposal includes a process involving law enforcement, hearings and temporary firearm removal. While three out of four registered voters in Tennessee expressed support for some form of red flag law in a recent Vanderbilt University poll, Lee has avoided branding his proposal as such.
The governor’s proposal for the special session faced criticism from John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, who characterized it as an emotional response to the shooting rather than a measured approach. Harris also referenced a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling expanding gun rights, and argued against government infringement on constitutional rights.
Lee’s proposal differs from red flag laws in that it allows at-risk individuals to appear in court and defend their case against firearm removal. However, it has drawn criticism from Second Amendment supporters.
The release of a “manifesto” by the shooter and demands for its disclosure by Republican lawmakers and Nashville Police Chief John Drake have become points of contention. Former Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond joined a lawsuit initiated by the Tennessee Firearms Association seeking the release of the materials. The document’s release has been called for by State Senator Todd Gardenhire, who emphasized the importance for lawmakers to have access to it ahead of the special legislative session.