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Jindal creates panel to examine La. school safety

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration plans to study improving school safety in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings by bringing together law enforcement, education and health agencies within the state. The study group, which Jindal created Friday by executive order, will be led by State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc.

Edmonson said the group will start its work with an open mind, he tells The Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/RA1sqQ ). State lawmakers already plan to examine school safety.

Edmonson said the group will examine familiarizing officers with layouts of local schools so they can respond effectively during emergencies, increasing communication between first responders and schools, and ensuring that schools have adequate crisis plans.

"You want to do as much work as you can do to be proactive," Edmonson said.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Dec. 14 claimed 26 victims, including 20 children, and sparked national debate about how to prevent future mass shootings.

Gun control advocates have argued for tighter regulations on high-powered rifles and large-capacity magazines, such as those used in the shooting, and an increase in mental health services. The National Rifle Association, by contrast, called for an increase in armed guards at schools and has blamed the tragedy and others like it in part on violent media.

Asked specifically about the NRA plan and other proposals to arm teachers, Edmonson said the study group is going into the discussion with "no preconceived notions other than to provide an environment that's safe for our kids."

He replied similarly when asked about increased mental health services. Many of the state's mental health care programs have faced cuts in recent months due to budget issues and some programs, including one focusing on at-risk children, have been eliminated. In some cases, alternatives have been provided through the state's Behavioral Health Partnership.

"I think you've got to go into these things prepared to talk about anything," he said.

Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said mental health funding has increased by 30 percent since the governor took office in 2008.

It's unclear how long the group will study the issue, but at least some proposals are expected to be ready in time for lawmakers to consider them during the legislative session that begins April 8. However, Edmonson noted that many agencies may be able to implement proposals generated by the group by changing their own policies without the need for new laws.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, announced last month that he would convene the House Committee on Homeland Security to look into school safety. That meeting is set for Jan. 17.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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