Concerns aired over college campus safety
The very nature of a college campus, with its open architecture and free flow of movement, poses a challenge to providing a safe environment, higher education officials told a Senate hearing last week.
This was the second joint hearing by the Senate Education and Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committees this winter on school safety issues. Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Township, Luzerne County, the emergency preparedness panel chairwoman, is holding the hearings to determine what types of state assistance or legislation is needed to better safeguard schools. The first hearing focused on secondary schools.
Higher education officials outlined a variety of steps they have taken in recent years to improve security, including comprehensive emergency planning to cover contingencies ranging from armed intruders to chemical spills and power failures, upgrading communications, installing surveillance cameras and beefing up campus police.
The basic dilemma facing higher education was outlined by Steven Dupes, a vice chancellor for the 14 state-owned universities.
"Our campuses are not military installations with clearly defined, fenced, gated and patrolled perimeters with strict command and controlled occupancy," said Dupes. "They are open, free-flowing spaces that are usually integrated into the surrounding community to the point that it is often hard to distinguish where one starts and the other ends."
Community colleges deal with a fluctuating population on their campuses due to the number of commuter students and others who may attend a professional development event for an employer or a youth event, said Tom Leary, president of Luzerne County Community College.
"Thirteen of the 14 community colleges have no residence halls on campus, making the majority of the nearly 500,000 credit and non-credit students commuters to our campuses," added Leary.
He said that makes it difficult to restrict access or lock down facilities if a threat occurs.
Bill Barrett, campus safety director at LCCC, urged senators to pass legislation giving law enforcement powers to campus police on community colleges. That would enable them to do background checks to determine if someone has a criminal history, he said.
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday on legislation aimed at helping landowners resolve old title problems relating to subsurface ownership of natural gas and other mineral rights.
The measure sponsored by Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, Williamsport, would provide a surface owner with an advantage at the start of a court case where ownership of mineral rights is unclear or unknown. This would be done with rebuttable presumption that subsurface rights have been abandoned in favor of the surface owner after a period of 50 years.
Under the bill, a plaintiff landowner would still have to prove his case in court with a preponderance of the evidence.
(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)