OAN’s Brooke Mallory
12:16 PM – Tuesday, May 30, 2023
In reaction to the Uvalde tragedy last year, Texas lawmakers sent a comprehensive school safety bill to Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday.
The legislation calls for the posting of armed security officers at every Texas school and the provision of mental health training for certain district personnel. It also increases the state’s authority to compel school districts to develop active-shooter strategies.
After resolving their differences over the last week, both chambers granted their final approval to House Bill 3.
“It’s time to act,” said Republican Representative Ken King, before the vote was taken. “We need to prevent the next Uvalde.”
The Senate had removed the requirement for an armed person to be present on every school campus earlier in the session, but the requirement was reenacted during the bargaining process.
According to the statute, the required armed individual may also be a peace officer, school resource officer, school marshal, or an employee of the school district.
Opponents of the bill, who maintained throughout the legislative session that fewer weapons, not more, are the answer to mass shootings, were especially alarmed by the clause. Nevertheless, the House still passed the bill by a surprisingly wide margin of 93–49.
Representative Vikki Goodwin, a Democrat from Austin, Texas, had argued that putting armed guards at schools would put students in more danger rather than protecting them.
“The potential for disastrous consequences is staggering,” Goodwin said.
The proposal called for the Texas School Safety Center, a think tank affiliated with Texas State University that has been examining schools’ safety procedures ever since the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School, to assess advantageous methods of securing campuses every five years. In the Uvalde incident, the shooter entered Robb Elementary through a backdoor that was not properly locked.
Additionally, the measure would establish regional safety teams that would conduct audits on intruder detections at least once every year.
Under HB 3, the Texas Education Agency would be establishing a safety and security department with the power to order school districts to plan and adhere to effective active-shooter measures. Those who do not adhere to the agency’s criteria would be risking a scenario where the state could take over and control them.
The bill would also mandate that the TEA create guidelines for informing parents of “violent activity” on campus while setting up teams for school safety reviews that would annually assess the vulnerability of all school campuses.
Following the mass-shooting that caused the death of 19 children and two teachers at the Uvalde-based elementary school last year, both chambers have declared that ensuring school safety is a top priority this session.
However, the raise-the-age bill that the Uvalde victims’ parents fought for earlier in the session was defeated, leaving them frustrated and dissatisfied. The bill would have raised the minimum age from 18 to 21 for purchasing semi-automatic rifles.
To further secure Texas schools, the state would give each school district $15,000 per campus and $10 per student, a figure that many school officials argue is not enough. Additionally, lawmakers have given the TEA around $1.1 billion to administer grants for school safety to the more than 1,000 school districts in the state.
San Antonio Democrat Senator Rolando Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said on Sunday that he had voted against the bill over funding concerns.
“It is sick and twisted that we have the largest budget surplus in Texas history and we aren’t doing a damn thing to keep our kids safe,” he said. “We aren’t doing anything to prevent another Uvalde.”
The proposed legislation would mandate that school staff who frequently engage with children complete an “evidence-based mental health first-aid training program.” The TEA would also reimburse the employee for the time and money spent on the training.
Sheriffs will be mandated to hold semi-annual meetings to talk about school safety and law enforcement’s response to “violent incidents” in counties with fewer than 350,000 residents. This involves ensuring that the chain of command is clear and that all radios are functional in case of an emergency.
Following the incident in Uvalde last year, more than 400 law enforcement personnel from several agencies descended upon Robb Elementary in a disorganized, chaotic fashion that lasted well over an hour.
In an effort to reduce confusion while responding to an emergency, each district would also be obliged to provide the Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement agencies with a tour and map of each campus.
“This is a huge win for the safety of our children,” said Republican Representative Carrie Isaac.
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