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Texas lawmakers approve sweeping school safety bill designed to prevent another tragedy

Texas governor announces school finance plans

Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that lawmakers have balanced the state’s budget for the next two years, reformed the way Texas schools are funded and crafted ways to slow the growth of property taxes.
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Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that lawmakers have balanced the state’s budget for the next two years, reformed the way Texas schools are funded and crafted ways to slow the growth of property taxes.

A little over a year after a shooter at Santa Fe High School killed eight students, two substitute teachers and wounded 13 others, Texas lawmakers sent a sweeping school safety bill to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to try and prevent the next school shooting in the Lone Star State.

The legislation includes measures such as hiring additional mental health counselors, implementing threat assessment teams and increased training that were noted in Abbott’s 43-page school safety plan he released last year shortly after the May 18, 2018 shooting.

“This is about doing everything we reasonably can do to protect the lives and the safety of our students, our educators on these campuses,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and chair of the Senate education committee.

Abbott tweeted his support for the issue shortly after the Senate approved the final version of the bill Sunday. Increased school safety was deemed a priority in his 2019 State of the State speech.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our students and educators,” Abbott wrote on Twitter Sunday. “... Texas delivered on this issue to ensure safer campuses across the state.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called the legislation, one of 30 bills he labeled as a priority, a “comprehensive package of strategies.”

“In the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting last year, we knew we had to take swift action to prevent future tragedies from occurring,” Patrick said in a statement after the bill’s passage. “Our goal is that no child will ever feel afraid at school and our prayer is that no Texas family will ever experience the grief that follows a school shooting. The safety of our children remains paramount — the future of Texas depends on it.”

The bill also establishes a Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium that would bring mental health experts together to address the needs of students. The provision was amended onto the sweeping school safety bill after Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, attempted to kill the language in a separate bill last week.

On Sunday, Stickland was one of eight representatives who voted against the school safety bill in the House.

The bill also allocates funds to go toward securing campuses, including hiring peace officers, implementing security cameras and more. Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, noted that more secure facilities are only part of the solution.

“That helps only once the trauma is occurring,” Menéndez said.

“The most important thing we can do in this bill is try to prevent,” Taylor agreed.

But Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said a different tactic would be the most effective in stopping a school shooter.

“One very, simple measure that would be at no cost to the state or schools,” Hall said. “And that is, a good, law-abiding citizen with a gun.”

Taylor stressed he thought that it could be “problematic” to say “everybody can take a gun to the school campus.” Hall was the lone senator who voted against approving the final version of the bill.

But despite Hall’s objections, more school marshals — select employees who undergo training to act as armed peace officers — are likely to fill campuses soon. A bill sent to the governor’s desk, that only awaits Abbott’s signature to become law, would abolish the cap of one school marshal per 200 students.

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government reporter for the Star-Telegram, covering all things policy and politics. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.
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