AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Senate began tackling the security of schools on Monday in a joint committee hearing.
State lawmakers have already filed
a string of safety measures this legislative session, surrounding a rash of school shootings across the nation.
“We must do everything we can to protect the safety and well-being of our most precious possession — our children,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said earlier this months in a statement. “I'm asking the Texas Senate to consider various school safety proposals, including providing state funds to make sure that school personnel approved by local school districts to carry concealed firearms have adequate training to protect our children and themselves.”
Committee members heard from education officials and police. In addition to state-funded concealed handgun license training for teachers, they also discussed development of emergency operations plans and recommendations for increased preparedness on campus.
"It is impossible to protect every student every hour of every day," said Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston. "We have 8,500 campuses with 5 million-plus students, but we need to do the best job we can, so that we do not see a Connecticut shooting or a Columbine shooting heaven forbid happen in Texas."
Other lawmakers have filed additional measures related to school safety this session. Even before taking office, Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, began pushing the Protection of Texas Children Act. It would permit schools to appoint a member of the faculty as an armed "school marshal" in case of an attack.
Right now, the state allows school employees to be armed, but almost every district does not have that policy in place. In fact, only Harrold ISD permits teachers with concealed carry licenses to have guns on campus. Union Grove recently made a similar move and will implement the change in the next few months.
As lawmakers begin to deal with the issue of school safety, parents are also weighing in with their own opinions.
"I think teachers that do carry guns, their students shouldn't know who has them so they aren't fearful," said Dominga Barr, as she picked up her son from school.
Parents on the other side of the debate are hoping that school districts come up with alternative measures for protection.
"Perhaps having metal detectors or some sort of scanners at the door might be an easier solution than carrying guns," said Payam Yazdanshenas, who has two elementary school daughters.
Another proposal is also getting bi-partisan support to increase school security by raising your taxes.
"We believe this is a Texas solution that will save lives without sacrificing our freedoms or trampling on our second amendment rights," said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.
Williams and fellow Republican, Rep. Dan Huberty of Kingwood, teamed up with Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston to write the “Texas School District Security Act.” It would allow school districts to decide on a new funding source by creating an additional sales or property tax to spend solely on enhancing school security, which could include adding more peace officers on campuses.
The bill would require districts to spell out a security plan and the cost to the community and revisit the plan every five years.
"It's transparent, it's got some flexibility built in and most important it's going to allow those stakeholders who know best what their community supports to initiate it,” said Whitmire.
A bill to allow students on college campuses to carry guns has also re-emerged from last session.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, told KXAN on Sunday’s “In Session. In-depth.” that the renewed discussion about allowing guns in college classrooms is misguided. Students and staffers at the state's colleges and universities would actually be less safe under such a law, he said.
"I opposed it last time and I'll oppose it this time," Watson said.
Other measures introduced this session aim to further enhance gun rights beyond schools. The "Firearms Protection Act" would make it a felony for local or state officers to enforce federal firearms rules.
Another bill would allow Texans to publicly carry handguns in the open. It was filed the same day Democrats in Washington filed a bill to outlaw assault rifles.
Dewhurst also put a petition on his web site telling the Obama administration to leave our guns alone. The petition said the President wants to turn his "radical, anti-second amendment rhetoric into law."
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