Texas House passes first school safety bill in response to Uvalde shooting

By Brian Lopez, The Texas Tribune

Texas House passes first school safety bill in response to Uvalde shooting” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The Texas House on Monday gave initial approval to a school safety bill that would require school districts to have an armed person at every campus across the state and have safety inspections conducted on their school buildings.

House Bill 3, authored by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, passed 122-19. It will be voted on once more before heading to the Senate.

School safety is a priority for both chambers this session after the Uvalde shooting left 19 children and two teachers dead last year. The House voted on HB 3 a week after the Senate passed a proposal to make sure that hundreds of Texas school districts without active-shooter plans get up to speed. The House is set to vote Monday on two other bills to beef up schools’ security.

The bill would also require the Texas School Safety Center — a Texas State University think tank that has been reviewing schools’ safety protocols since the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting — to conduct checks of a school district’s buildings at least once every five years to make sure they are following the state’s safety standards. The Texas Education Agency could withhold any grant money from a district until the agency finds that it is in compliance.

In the Uvalde shooting, the gunman entered Robb Elementary School through a back door that failed to properly lock.

The proposal would also give grants to students who want to attend another school district if their current one is not complying with safety standards. In addition, the bill was amended Monday to give schools $100 for each student who regularly attends classes, plus an additional $15,000 each year, to upgrade their security.

In their budget proposals for the next two years, the House has proposed that the state spend $1.6 billion on school security while the Senate calls for a nearly $1.3 billion investment. Members from both chambers will meet behind closed doors to negotiate what will make it into the final budget.

[In overnight testimony, Uvalde victims’ family members call on Texas lawmakers to raise age to buy semi-automatic guns]

But while both chambers have passed bills on school security in response to the Uvalde shooting, it is unclear whether lawmakers will listen to families of the victims who want to raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic guns from 18 to 21. The bill that would do that had a hearing at the House last week, but it faces stiff opposition from Republicans.

During the floor debate, Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, brought an amendment that would bar teachers from being armed on campus. Under the current language of the bill, a school district could arm a teacher to meet the requirements of having an armed officer at every campus. The amendment failed.

Robin Breed, the Austin legislative lead for Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for public safety policies to protect people from gun violence, said she was disappointed that the amendment wasn’t approved.

“Law enforcement officers like those that were at Uvalde have enormous training requirements,” she said. “We know that even with those training requirements, those officers at Uvalde were unable or unwilling to stop that shooter. So, asking a teacher to be able to perform better than the officers is ridiculous.”

Erin Douglas contributed to this story.

This is a developing story; check back for details.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/04/24/texas-house-school-safety/.

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