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LA students may soon be allowed to wear bulletproof backpacks

Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, proposed the bill that would allow Louisiana students to wear bulletproof backpacks. (Source: Ashley Wolf/Manship School News Service) Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, proposed the bill that would allow Louisiana students to wear bulletproof backpacks. (Source: Ashley Wolf/Manship School News Service)

By Drew White and Paul Braun

LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana children may begin wearing bulletproof backpacks to class soon.

The House voted 82-6 Tuesday to allow students to wear body armor on school grounds or buses. Current Louisiana law prohibits body armor on school property.

The bill previously cleared the Senate with overwhelming support. Ballistic tests indicate that the backpacks could stop shots from handguns and shotguns but not bullets from the AR-15 and other high-powered rifles that parents fear most. 

“What a sad conversation to have - about kids having body armor in schools,” Rep. Barry Ivey said to his colleagues on the House floor.

Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, presented the legislation.

She said the backpacks, typically made with inserts of Kevlar-like material, range from $50 to $400.

Protective gear issued to police and security officers usually consists of Kevlar, a synthetic fiber of high tensile strength. The molecules are aligned parallel to one another and are very tightly bound, making the material bulletproof.

Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, voiced concerns that the high cost of bulletproof backpacks would be unavailable to poor students or may not adhere to local school board regulations requiring see-through or mesh backpacks.

Landry mentioned that the armored gear was optional, and parent-teacher associations could hold fundraisers to allow children who could not afford the backpacks to receive them.

Rep. John F. Anders, D-Vidalia, questioned the implementation of the bill if school boards opposed it.

“I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want it,” Landry said, noting that every school board association member at a House Education Committee last month did not oppose the measure.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, after a 19-year-old wielding a semi-automatic rifle killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in February.

Walsworth has said that educators he has talked to would rather have children wear the backpacks than have teachers armed.

Also on Tuesday, a Senate judiciary committee advanced heavily amended legislation that was initially intended to allow individuals who are not school employees to possess firearms on school campuses.

Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, introduced an amendment that softened the bill to allow individuals to with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms up to a school’s property line but not on campus.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans; Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, and Chabert voted for the bill. Sen. Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport, and Karen Carter-Peterson, D-New Orleans voted against it.

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