MONTGOMERY -- An Alabama Senate committee gave quick approval to a bill allowing a church to set up its own police force Wednesday.

In a voice vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to send to the full Senate a bill that would give Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham the power to set up its own police force.

Church administrator Matt Moore said the church, home to a K-12 school and a theological seminary, needed a police force in the age of school shootings.

"Sandy Hook, that was a game-changer," Moore said.

Similar bills have failed in earlier years. Critics said those bill would have violated church-state separation, while creating a police force that isn't answerable to elected officials. Senators on Wednesday didn't bring up the church-state issue explicitly, but did question the accountability of the police force.

"I don't want this to be a little secret group that, when something happens, it gets covered up," said Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

Others asked if any private institution in the state has its own police agency. Committee chairman Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said some private universities do have police forces.

Senators quickly gave the bill an affirmative vote. The bill heads to the full Senate.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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