May 22, 2023 – Texas Senate gave final approval to a priority school safety bill on Sunday that would give the state more power to push school districts to create active-shooter plans, as well as requiring a mental health evaluation for certain employees and puts restrictions on those who can carry a gun within school.
The Senate unanimously passed it’s latest version of House Bill 3, authored by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock. The Bill now heads back to the House, which needs to either accept the new version or negotiate the differences with the Senate before the legislation heads to Gov. Abbott’s desk.
The proposal would 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.
Similarly to Senate Bill 11, authored by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, HB 3 would create a safety and security department within the Texas Education Agency and give the department the authority to push school districts to establish robust active-shooter protocols. Whoever fails to meet the agency’s standards could be put under the state’s supervision.
The Bill would also require the TEA to develop standards for notifying parents of “violent Activity” on campus and set up school safety review teams to conduct vulnerability assessments of all school campuses once a year.
In the budget proposals for the next two years, the House allocated $1.6 billion for school security while the Senate called for an investment of nearly $1.3 billion. Members from both chambers are still negotiating what will make it in the final budget.
The chambers have already sent Senate Bill 838, authored by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, to Abbott’s desk. The Bill would require districts to use part of their school safety budget to place silent panic alert buttons in each classroom. These buttons would immediately alert law enforcement agencies during emergencies. The proposal appears to be in response to the police radio failures inside Robb Elementary during the Uvalde shooting.
The version of HB 3 that has passed in the Senate removes two key components from Burrows’ bill: it would remove the requirement for schools to have armed security officer at every campus and lowers the money schools get to invest in securing their campuses from $100 to $10 per student. Currently, that figure is $9.72.
Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, tried to amend the Bill to raise the allotment to $100 once again, but it failed.
This version of the Bill also states that those that carry a weapon on campus cannot act as law enforcement such as making arrests unless it is to prevent a death or a serious bodily injury.
Under this Bill, school employees that regularly interact with children would need to complete an “evidence-based mental health first-aid training program.” The Texas Education Agency would reimburse the employee for the time and money spent on the training.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, tried to add an amendment that would give schools $100,000 to address mental health needs, but ultimately, took it down as Nichols, the Bill’s sponsor, said HB 3 was not the right “vehicle” for such amendment and lawmakers would instead study mental health funding in schools during the interim.
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