Harris lawmakers propose way for school districts to raise money for campus security

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- In the latest response to last month's mass shootings at a Connecticut elementary school, three Harris County lawmakers Tuesday outlined legislation that they said would allow local school officials to ask local voters to pay for school security measures tailored to their communities.

The plan is modeled on the state law that allows municipalities to set up crime-control districts that levy a sales tax. More than 20 Tarrant County cities have adopted such taxes.

The lawmakers announced their plans on the same day that a shooting at a Harris County community college campus drew nationwide media coverage. At least three people were wounded in what authorities described as fight between two people in which the third was caught in the crossfire.

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, said their Texas School District Security Act would give school districts the power to ask voters if they want to raise money for security measures through property or sales taxes.

The lawmakers said the proposal offers a flexible "Texas solution" to local school officials concerned about the need for greater school security.

"We can offer a solution that will save lives," said Williams, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "A blanket state mandate won't work. Nor will a one-size-fits-all policy. Our idea emphasizes local choice and local control."

Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the plan enables school boards and parents "to decide what is best for their schools."

The concept appears similar to local-option legislation that was advanced during the 2009 Legislature to finance transportation improvements in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The unsuccessful plan had widespread support among North Texas leaders but came under fire from critics over a feature that could have led to a local-option increase on gasoline taxes.

Under the security plan, money raised by the special tax would be separate from all other district funding. The district would be required to conduct hearings and detail specific costs before a local-option election. A review and renewal election would be required every five years.

Dave Montgomery is chief of the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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