The students have walked out, marched and organized school safety campaigns. On Monday, the adults took a turn addressing school violence in a state with already tough gun laws. Senior Correspondent David Cruz joins Mary Alice Williams from Camden.
Cruz: It is a joint session of the Assembly and Senate Education Committees. Pam Lampitt and Sen. Teresa Ruiz are co-chairing Monday’s session. Ruiz has agreed to give us a few minutes. One of the people I talked to today said that they were really impressed with this hearing because it featured a lot of normal people, real people. Did you get that sense? Who’d you hear from and did you have any take-aways?
Ruiz: The best testimony, and it’s not to pare down anyone who came and shared comments, was a young woman, I believe she was 11-years-old, from Princeton. She wrote a prolific testimony from the viewpoint of a child who has to sit in a classroom and go through drills that seem extraordinary when they’re being described through the lens of our children. What’s important for us as state legislators, at least for me, what I have learned is we’ve have experts that joined us in Trenton, today we’re hearing from local experts, whether it’s superintendents of districts here down in South Jersey, or chiefs of police, how to share information, how we can bridge the divide, and just as critically important to hear public safety saying to all of us that it’s not solely just empowering personnel and public safety in our school districts, it has to be a comprehensive approach to ensure that our students are safe, and that means addressing mental health issues, as well.
Cruz: I know the impetus for this is school shootings, Parkland in particular, but in Essex County where you represent and Camden County where we are here, and Hudson County, where I live, the gun violence mostly is outside of the school, in the neighborhoods. Did you hear some about that today?
Ruiz: We haven’t heard that, but I will tell you that I bring it up at every committee before we open, that gun violence has impacted many of our families. Gun violence is a public health crisis for many of our communities here in the state of New Jersey. And when we talk about the issues here, and the emotional task that it takes on our students, that we remember those students that don’t have safe passageway on their way to schools. And when we talk about being safe, it’s about being safe on the playground, in the classroom, on our stoops and on our way to work.
Cruz: And that’s kind of a different approach.
Ruiz: It’s comprehensive public safety, gun issues. I think that when we talk about this we can’t talk about it in a vacuum, right? Whether it’s resources, making investments, buildings, training personnel, bringing all hands on deck, that we have to talk about the reality that we face here in the state, and that’s part of our reality.
Cruz: So there are, I think it’s six bills, that have made it through the Assembly. The governor made it a point last week, a couple of times that he liked to see the Senate take up these bills. What is the status of these bills. Is there a hold up at all?
Ruiz: Not a hold up. We’ll be hearing the bills, I believe the Law and Public Safety Committee on April 16.
Cruz: You are a new mom and we saw you at the March for Our Lives in Newark and you gave some emotional testimony there. How much has that changed everything about how you look at this issue particularly?
Ruiz: It may have made me more emotional, but people who know who I am, when I speak about children, whether they’re mine biologically or not, it’s something that always lends itself or pulls on my heartstrings. Certainly, as a mom to a 1-year-old, I can’t even fathom what our students are dealing with on a daily basis. So we have to think of a future that’s more stable and safe.