DENVER (AP) — Colorado schools could be sued for shootings under legislation introduced Friday by state lawmakers who say they are sending a directive to education officials to do more to keep students safe.
“It’s about holding them liable for providing a direct duty to care for those kids in their charge,” Republican Senate President Bill Cadman said.
The bill allows shooting victims or their relatives to collect up to $350,000 for violence “when the harm is reasonably foreseeable.”
Another bill would create a legislative study committee to examine student violence. Such committees usually recommend legislation to be introduced.
The proposals are a response to the 2013 shooting death of Claire Davis, an Arapahoe High School student. But Colorado has been the site of other notorious school shootings, including the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
The bills have bipartisan support.
Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst said one of the goals of the proposals is “to keep our kids safe in school and to reassure the parents that when they drop their kids off at the beginning of the day that they’re going to be safe and they can pick them up at the end of the day.”
The measure allowing lawsuits would waive the state’s governmental immunity so schools could be sued for shootings. If passed, the law would apply retroactively to 2013, to allow Davis’ parents to sue, but not victims of prior school shootings.
Authorities say 18-year-old Karl Pierson targeted his debate coach when he entered Arapahoe High School with a shotgun, machete, homemade bombs and 125 rounds of ammunition on Dec. 13, 2013. He shot Davis before turning the gun on himself. The coach was unharmed.
School officials did not punish Pierson after he shouted a death threat against the coach months earlier in a school hallway. Administrators deemed Pierson low-risk, despite a threat-assessment that showed a history of violent behavior and angry outbursts. The district has declined to comment about the case.
It’s not unheard of for lawmakers to pass legislation waiving governmental immunity for past events. They did so in 2012, when Colorado was found liable for a state-prescribed burn that grew out of control. The Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer killed three people and burned two dozen homes.
“It’s something that requires careful consideration because you are exposing the taxpayers to liability,” said Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. It’s too soon to tell where the bills will go to in committee, but Kagan’s is a possible choice for one or both if they reach the House.
While Kagan did not say whether he opposed the liability bill because he hasn’t seen the legislation, he appeared cautious about it.
“It’s lawful. I guess. Is it advisable? That’s another question,” he said.
By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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