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Governor to sign bill to boost school security

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Gov. Susana Martinez, as State Police Chief Pete Kassetas stands behind her, speaks to reporters outside her office last month, following the adjournment of the Legislature. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico will earmark up to $40 million over the next four years to upgrade security at public schools.

Gov. Susana Martinez said Tuesday that she will sign legislation making up to $10 million a year available to public schools for security projects – such as fencing, intercoms and controlled entrances.

“We must continue to do all we can to ensure our students and school staff are safe on school grounds – especially in the wake of recent tragedies and threats,” Martinez said in a news release.

Schools can apply for the funding in each of the next four years.

But it isn’t new money. Instead, the earmark for security will come out of the main pot of money that pays for other capital improvements at public schools.

Next year, for example, the state will reserve $10 million for school security – out of a total of $170 million for public school capital outlay. Setting aside $10 million for security means there will be that much less for other projects.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup.

The governor’s plan to sign the legislation comes amid a national debate over how to protect students and teachers from shootings at schools.

In December, a 21-year-old gunman shot and killed two students at Aztec High School in northwestern New Mexico before killing himself.

At one point during the shooting, a substitute teacher wedged a sofa against a door to barricade herself and students in an office room.

And just last month, 17 people were shot to death at a Florida high school.

Martinez, a Republican and former prosecutor, has suggested hiring retired police officers to help protect schools.

She said Tuesday that the signing of Senate Bill 239 isn’t the only way to improve school safety.

“This legislation is important; however, it is just one step in keeping our students safe at school,” she said in a news release. “I encourage school districts to continue to collaborate with law enforcement and continue to implement other, innovative ways to keep their students and staff safe and secure.”

About 40 bills passed in this year’s legislative session are still awaiting action by Martinez. She has until noon today to sign or veto legislation passed in the closing days of the session, when most of the work gets done.

Anything she doesn’t sign by today is automatically vetoed. The state budget for the coming year is among the bills that haven’t been acted on.

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