FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – A bill “born out of tragedy” that would mandate mental health professionals in Kentucky schools cleared the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee unanimously on Tuesday and advances to the Kentucky House floor.
House Bill 604 is sponsored by Rep. Will Coursey, R-Symsonia, whose district includes Marshall County High School, site of a shooting on Jan. 23 that left two students dead and 23 injured.
“This bill was born out of tragedy,” Coursey testified. “We firmly believe this piece of legislation could spare us this type of tragedy in the future.”
Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Byars spoke on behalf of the bill, too, remembering “the most horrible day I’ve ever spent in my life” in talking about that January day. “It was trying not only for students and teachers, but for every first responder on the scene.
“It won’t 100 percent prevent these types of events, but at least if we have some mental health professionals in the school system, it would definitely be an advantage to foresee something like that going on.”
The bill requires school districts to have one mental health professional for every 1,500 students.
Dr. Lisa Wilner, president of the Kentucky psychological Association and a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education, also testified for the bill. She said since these are mental health professionals, some of their services could be billed in insurance companies or Medicaid, when they give one-on-one care.
She said one goal under the bill would be to give each child a sense of belonging and a trusted adult to go to, which could prevent shootings beforehand.
“In over 80 percent of these horrible tragedies, someone has known that there was a plan,” she said. “All too often, that person who knows is too afraid to speak up, as there’s a code of silence. This bill would go a long way toward breaking that code of silence.”
When asked if other states had similar legislation, Coursey said he was unaware of one, so Kentucky could be looked upon as a national leader on the subject.
The bill won unanimous approval and now heads to the House floor.
In other action, the A & R Committee approved HB 169, which would fight gang violence by enhancing the penalties for those convicted of gang-related crimes as well as those who recruit young people into gangs.
They also passed HB 6, which would establish a tax credit to promote investments in rural Kentucky businesses.