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Panel sees no easy fix to shootings

SANTA FE — How do you stop what seems to be an increasingly deadly wave of school shootings?

A key New Mexico legislative committee struggled with that question during a hearing today, while acknowledging that there are no easy fixes to keep the state’s schools totally safe.

“Whatever we do, there will still be incidents,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, during today’s meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee at the state Capitol.

New Mexico has not been spared fro0m a national spate of school gun violence, with Aztec still reeling from a December shooting that left two high-schools students – and the 21-year-old gunman – dead.

The state has also had other school shootings, including a January 2014 incident in which a 13-year-old Roswell boy opened fire with a modified shotgun in a school gymnasium, injuring two fellow students.

Lawmakers did approve a bill during this year’s 30-day legislative session that will authorize up to $40 million in public school infrastructure dollars for school security measures over the next four years.

Specifically, that money could be spent on card-swipe door entry systems, metal directors, surveillance cameras and bulletproof windows.

But testimony from school officials, state public education leaders, top law enforcement officers and lawmakers suggested there’s still more that could be done.

 Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski testifies on efforts to fight school gun violence Thursday before the Legislative Finance Committee

Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski testifies on efforts to fight school gun violence Thursday before the Legislative Finance Committee. (Dan Boyd/Albuquerque Journal)

Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski said newer schools, like those in Reserve and Farmington, are generally better designed when it comes to ensuring student and teacher safety than older schools.

“There is a big difference out there in terms of safety of facilities,” Ruszkowski said. “You can feel that when you walk into a high school.”

He also said 17 of the state’s 89 school districts have not completed active shooter training during the current school year.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, said some Albuquerque Public Schools teachers have contacted him with concerns about their inability to lock classroom doors.

One lawmaker, Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, pushed for legislators to call themselves back to Santa Fe this summer for an extraordinary session on school violence issues.

He cited student mental health issues and existing current penalties for those who threaten violence against schools — such an offense is currently a petty misdemeanor — as among the issues that could be tackled in such a session.

But other legislators expressed concern about reconvening the Legislature without first having a plan in place and the motion ultimately failed.

However, committee members did vote unanimously to recommend a task force be created next month to further study possible legislation.

“We’ve got a problem and we’d better fix it before the start of the next school year,” said Muñoz, whose wife is a school administrator. “I don’t want to go to my wife’s funeral, I don’t want to go to my kids’ funeral, because the Legislature didn’t step up.”