Jonathan Cohn

May 15, 2021

2 min read

Bill that Risks Increasing Police Presence in Schools Gets Bipartisan Support — and Opposition

On Thursday, to little fanfare, the House of Representatives passed the Behavioral Intervention Guidelines Act of 2021 (the “BIG” Act) by a wide bipartisan margin of 323 to 92, with two abstentions.

The bill was introduced by a bipartisan team of Republicans Drew Ferguson (GA-03) and Michael Burgess (TX-26) and Democrats Scott Peters (CA-52) and Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) and directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to facilitate the development of best practices to assist elementary schools, secondary schools, and institutions of higher education in establishing and using behavioral intervention teams.

The bill sounds innocuous at first glance, but provisions in it open up the possibility of greater police presence in schools.

Among the “best practices” discussed are how such a behavioral intervention team can help mitigate the following:

(B) inappropriate limitations or restrictions on law enforcement’s jurisdiction over criminal matters;

(C) attempts to substitute the behavioral intervention process in place of a criminal process, or impede a criminal process, when an individual’s behavior has potential criminal implications;

In other words, the bill’s language conveys that it is a problem that the school-to-prison pipeline isn’t well-oiled enough.

The bill also includes the Director of the National Threat Assessment Center of the United States Secretary Service and “local law enforcement agencies and campus law enforcement administrators” among the groups to be consulted in developing such best practices.

65 Democrats and 28 Republicans voted against it, with two Democrats — Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and Norma Torres (CA-35) — voting present.

It is unclear what the Republican grounds for opposition to the bill were (given how little media the bill got beyond a trade association press release), but it seems likely that Democratic opposition stemmed from the bill’s potential to exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline.

The 65 Democrats who voted NO were the following: