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Alabama State Legislature update — guns, school safety and racial profiling dominate

Guns — and school safety — took center stage in Montgomery Wednesday on a day when a shooting coincidentally took place at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital Highlands.

A legislative committee also voted in favor of a bill aimed at chipping away at racial profiling by police.

Here is a summary of the big developments in the state capital:

The big story: A proposal to let teachers carry guns in schools drew strong reactions pro and con at a public hearing in the Legislature, according to the Associated Press.

The proposal, by state Rep. Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville), is one of many offered by lawmakers in the wake of a Valentine’s Day mass shooting that killed 17 people at a high school in south Florida — and the first to go before an Alabama legislative committee.

The bill would allow teachers and administrators to carry handguns on school property as long as they complete police training.

“What happens when a gunman gets in our schools?” Ainsworth said during the hearing at the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. “Deadly force is what needs to be there.”

But the bill drew opposition from the Alabama Association of School Boards and educators. Limestone County Superintendent Tom Sisk, who also is a firearms instructor, told the committee that even law enforcement officers sometimes miss what they are aiming for and that teachers in an emergency situation would be even more prone to missing.

Elizabeth White, a teacher and volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said: “The majority of Alabama teachers do not want to be armed. They just want to teach.”

School safety contest: Concern over school violence may explain why a record number of schools entered an annual school safety awards contest first started 16 years ago, according to AL.com.

The website reports that 47 schools applied. That was about double last year’s total. A panel of 16 law enforcement officials at the state Attorney General’s Office judged the entries on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that occurs next year,” Attorney General Steve Marshall told the website. “We want to be able to advance best practices around the state. This highlights the really good things in what schools are doing in physical planning and training and we’ll take that statewide to replicate what they are doing really well.”

Marshall told AL.com that his office would present trophies to the winning schools.

“What we are doing is bringing attention to the school systems, education personnel and law enforcement what schools are doing the best of the best,” he said. “We hope that by highlighting what they are doing, that we are able to identify those programs that transcend schools and school systems.”

Winning entries will be announced next week.

Racial profiling: A proposal to ban racial profiling unanimously passed out of a House committee, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

Sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), the proposal would prohibit police from stopping drivers based on their race or ethnicity and would require law enforcement agencies to collect data on traffic stops. It also would require law enforcement agencies to report information on injuries to officers on the job.

After the voice vote in the House Judiciary, the measure advances to the full House. The Senate approved it in January.

“If the bill becomes law, I think it’s going to curtail it tremendously,” Smitherman told the paper after the vote. “And it will eliminate it eventually. It’s going to isolate the 1 percent or 2 percent that’s actually doing that, and allow the light to shine on all the outstanding officers who are doing a great job.”

Smitherman, who is black, recounted five times he says he was racially profiled — all without getting charged or ticketed.

“I don’t know what he was thinking, maybe ‘What’s a black guy doing out here with a Lexus hardtop convertible?’” he said.

State Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) questioned whether the increased paperwork the bill would impose on police would be an undo burden.

“The task we’re going to impose on them, the questions about the AG’s office, those are my issues,” he said.

Tweet of the day:

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.


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