Today, the Texas House will take up SB 11 — which aims to establish stronger school security, improve mental health counseling, and update school infrastructure. Authored by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and sponsored in the House by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), SB 11 is a legislative companion to Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety proposal detailed in the wake of the Santa Fe school shooting last year.
Should SB 11 become law, the bill would authorize a school district to partner at no cost with a mental health organization that would provide training in identifying and managing mental health issues among students. The bill “requires that mental health authorities employ a non-physician mental health professional to serve as a resource and provide training to school district personnel.”
This is part of a larger strategy required of the Texas School Safety Center (TSSC) by the Legislature.
Kathy Martinez-Prather, Director of the TSSC, testified on SB 11 in the Senate committee hearing on March 5. To the committee, Prather said TSSC has been focusing on “giving [local threat assessment teams] the proper training so that their response is leading to neither an under-response nor an over-response.”
Prather said TSSC works in tandem with the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Education Agency, and works specifically at “providing tactical support to Santa Fe ISD” in updating and improving their emergency plans and operating procedures after the 2018 shooting.
The bill appropriates $50 per student in each school district to be used for security upgrades such as security guards, metal detectors, and security cameras.
In the 2017-2018 school year, Texas public schools had 5,399,682 enrolled students. If implemented as written, that plan would amount to almost $270 million.
This amount is separate from the proposed $4 billion in teacher and other faculty pay raises being debated in the school finance reform legislation.
Additionally, the bill allows school districts to issue bonds to pay for the safety retrofitting of school buses, which could provide for some complex interactions for property tax reform.
Also included is a loan repayment program for school counselors and other related staff.
The central themes required of school districts in the plan are creating an emergency plan; increasing security measures; implementing training guidelines and carrying out instruction, and appointing a school safety committee to oversee implementation of SB 11’s provisions.
After passage through the Senate, Taylor said, “We know that we cannot prevent every tragedy, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for strengthening school security, but SB 11 provides the framework to empower school districts to do what’s best for them and their students.”
At the March 5 committee hearing, Elva Mendoza with Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America testified in opposition saying, “responsible storage and child access prevention laws can help keep firearms out of dangerous hands.” Mendoza applauded Sen. Taylor for increasing funding to schools for school safety, but wanted to see other laws implemented to address the problem of school shootings.
In addition to SB 11, Mendoza was testifying against various other bills (all at once), including one that was designed to arm teachers.
Governor Abbott specifically identified school safety as a key issue in his State of the State 2019 address.
“As we improve our schools, it’s not enough to give our students a quality education. We must create a learning environment that is safe,” the governor stated at the time.
Initial responses to last year’s horrific school shooting included possible consideration of a so-called “red flag law,” which would provide for law enforcement, family members, or citizens to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from an individual believed to pose a danger to themselves or others.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said last summer that such an idea would never pass in the Senate. Governor Abbott eventually withdrew the suggestion for lawmakers to consider the “red flag” proposal and stated at the time that it was not meant to be a statement of personal support for the idea, but rather just one of many policies for legislators to deliberate.
Opponents of “red flag laws” argue that such laws are unconstitutional and infringe not only on an individual’s Second Amendment rights, but also on one’s right to due process. As such, SB 11 does not include any “red flag” language in the bill.
After the 2018 shooting, a committee was formed to study the issue and Texas schools’ susceptibility to more attacks. Their findings are published here.
The provisions in SB 11 are largely modeled on the findings in the report.
The deadline for any bill to be heard and voted on second reading is tonight at midnight.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.