How the Uvalde massacre changed Texas school safety and gun laws | #schoolsaftey

Gloria Cazares sat in a Republican’s office in the Texas Capitol holding up a poster of her slain 9-year-old daughter Jackie.

Her No. 1 priority for the Texas Legislature — banning those under 21 from buying powerful AR-15-style assault rifles, as the Uvalde school shooter had done — was about to fail, docked in a committee chaired by Rep. Dustin Burrows. She was in his office for herself, but she was also there for the dozens of Uvalde family members who had rallied for the bill in Austin the day before.

She stared silently at Jackie’s picture as other advocates made their case to a Burrows staffer. He listened to their pleas but couldn’t promise that the committee would advance the bill. “I know it’s not the answer y’all want,” he said, instead offering copies of a sweeping school safety bill authored by Burrows. They declined.

“Wait until you’re a parent,” Cazares said, suddenly compelled to speak. She gestured to the photo of Jackie, smiling in a white lace dress. “This is my daughter. This was her First Communion. This was the dress that she was buried in. Just remember that.”

She walked out.

The interaction on May 9 was emblematic of a year of advocacy and debate over the deadliest school shooting in Texas, which left 19 fourth-graders and two teachers dead. Though the families didn’t get the gun reform they wanted, the shooting at Robb Elementary School inspired the most significant action on federal firearm laws in decades and an unprecedented investment in school safety measures.

IN DEPTH: Morning of chaos: A reconstruction of how the Uvalde massacre unfolded

The state Legislature adjourned this week touting those accomplishments, as Uvalde families returned home to mourn their loved ones and schedule their next advocacy trip.

“Were it not for their efforts, we wouldn’t have made it that far, and I’m just grateful to them,”  said state Rep. Tracy King, a moderate Democrat who represents Uvalde and authored the raise-the-age bill. “They need to never give up, keep on trying.”

At least $1.4 billion for school safety

Burrows’ House Bill 3 gives school districts an extra $10 per student, plus $15,000 per campus, every year for school safety upgrades. Another $1.1 billion in grants will help schools meet new facility requirements from the Texas Education Agency, for a total of at least $1.4 billion.

There are a host of other reforms: New regional education service centers, using material from the Texas School Safety Center, will help schools come up with emergency plans. Every campus in Texas will receive an annual security audit funded by the state. Further, districts will conduct similar audits at least once every three years, school officers will participate in active shooter training every four years, and the safety center will re-evaluate best practices every five years.

The bill requires at least one armed security officer on each campus during regular school hours. The state will also conduct a vulnerability assessment of each school district randomly every four years and issue recommendations afterward.

The legislation, which still awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature, asks the education agency to issue standards for informing parents about ongoing violence on campus. It also requires districts to come up with clear guidelines for students to report concerning behavior.

“We want accountability,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat, who experienced a mass shooting in his hometown in 2019. “Are the safety plans in place actually being carried out? Because what we saw in Uvalde is that there are a lot of plans on paper, but … if you don’t follow them, tragic things can happen.”

A small portion of the bill also addresses law enforcement response. In Uvalde, nearly 400 officers responded to the shooting, but a chaotic on-scene response, a lack of clear leadership and faulty radio communications contributed to delays in confronting the shooter that may have cost lives.

Officers did not breach the classroom where the gunman was hiding for 77 minutes.

READ MORE: Uvalde shooting may spur action in Texas Legislature – with one big exception

HB 3 mandates that districts provide the Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement officials with maps of campuses and allow them to walk through the schools. Sheriffs in counties with populations under 350,000 will also have semi-annual meetings to discuss school safety issues, including police response, radio operability and chain of command.

“Republicans have to walk a fine line between empowering law enforcement to limit access to guns, making sure that guns don’t get in the hands of ineligible people, but also protecting students in schools and Second Amendment rights,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. “They’re doing a lot, politically, that is challenging in a world where there’s a lot of gun violence.”

The Legislature has separately funneled millions more into mental health care, especially in rural areas. School employees will get state funding for mental health training to help them identify and support children who may pose a threat.

The state is putting $16 million toward efforts to expand capacity at mental health hospitals, especially for children and adolescents. And Uvalde, specifically, is getting at least $10 million to support local mental health services.

In total, the state budget allocates $11.6 billion for mental health initiatives across all state agencies.

But Democrats say those efforts are not sufficient. Everyone likes to talk about mental health after mass shootings, Moody said, “but when it comes to actually putting things in action, I do think that we’ve been woefully inadequate.”

“We haven’t put the proper connections in place across the state so that some of the people who do need that health care can access it,” he said.

The GOP leaders who spearheaded this work — Burrows of Lubbock, state Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan — all declined or did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

BACKGROUND: After Uvalde massacre, Texas GOP leaders double down on the same fixes they tried after Santa Fe

Burrows, as he laid out HB 3 in April, said the bill “is neither perfect nor totally complete,” but “these collaborative, accountability-driven efforts can drive the sort of team approach that is vital to turning the tide of senseless violence.”

“At the end of the day, teachers, students and their families deserve safe classrooms and school administrators need the support of the state and cooperation of law enforcement to make those safe classrooms a reality,” he said.

The legislation built on a similar package that lawmakers passed in 2019, a year after a teenage gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School. During that session, legislators expanded mental health initiatives in schools, established threat assessment teams and trained students to use “bleeding control stations” during emergencies.

“Republicans have been strategically smart about framing this issue as a safety issue instead of as a gun issue,” said Rottinghaus, the UH professor.  “Democrats, on the other side, have had a hard time changing the narrative.”

Moody said it shouldn’t be an either-or situation. Lawmakers should discuss all of the aspects of mass shootings, he said — firearms, school security, mental health care, police accountability.

“It is incumbent upon us to discuss all these things at once, and it’s complicated, but that is what our job requires,” he said.

Punished for bipartisan gun reforms

Just weeks after the Uvalde shooting, the state’s congressional delegation was in Washington debating a response. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator, became chief negotiator on a broad legislative package — the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — that offered billions in funding for mental health and school safety initiatives.

RELATED: Deal on historic gun law shows Sen. John Cornyn in his element: shrewd, steady and jeered as a RINO

It also offered the most significant federal gun reform in decades, though the changes themselves were limited. The measure expanded background checks for gun purchases, introduced greater scrutiny of young buyers, and encouraged states to pass “red flag” laws that temporarily remove firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

On May 24, Cornyn highlighted those legislative achievements in an op-ed published in the Austin American-Statesman.

“In the wake of the shooting, people in Uvalde wanted to ensure this tragedy was not in vain,” he wrote. “They wanted something good — something productive — to come from it, and I believe it has. … I hope they can take some solace in knowing that their calls for action were heard and answered.”

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, a San Antonio Republican who represents Uvalde, was one of the few GOP members of the House to vote in favor of the legislation when it reached his chamber. But he said much of the money set aside for mental health and school safety initiatives has been stuck in Washington, and he’s still working to get it distributed to local communities.

Gonzales knows that more legislation is needed to keep students safe, and he said he has been trying to figure out his next steps. Over the past few weeks, he has met with several local leaders in Uvalde — from the mayor to survivors’ parents to teachers who were shot — to ask for their perspectives.

LAST YEAR: In Washington to make case for gun control, Uvalde families met people who know their pain

“In all cases, they talk about the need for a solution,” he said. “They don’t know what that looks like, but they know something needs to happen, and I agree with them. Something more needs to happen, and it’s honestly up to me in Washington to navigate that and figure out what can and can’t work politically.”

Gonzales recently formed the Bipartisan School Safety and Security Caucus with U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat from Parkland, Florida, where a teenage gunman killed 17 students at a high school on Valentine’s Day 2018.

It’s not enough for many of the Uvalde family members, who have broader demands at the U.S. Capitol — a federal ban on assault rifles. Some feel like Cornyn and Gonzales have failed them personally, and many of them plan to travel to Washington, D.C. next week for a “survivor sit-in.”

On the opposite end, Texas Republicans censured Gonzales and booed Cornyn at the state GOP convention last year for their votes on the gun legislation.

‘We laid the groundwork for the next time’

The raise-the-age legislation in the statehouse, House Bill 2744, never made it to the House floor. The Uvalde families were disappointed, but it wasn’t a total loss. The bill advanced further this year than any similar bill has in past sessions.

After hearing emotional testimony from the family members in April, a House committee passed the bill by a vote of 8 to 5. Two Republicans voted in favor. The bill died in the calendars committee, chaired by Burrows.

Similar legislation never got a hearing in the Senate.

“I worked everybody that I needed to work in order to try to get it over to calendars, and we weren’t able to do it, but we laid the groundwork for the next time,” said King, the Uvalde Democrat who authored HB 2744. “Big legislation takes several sessions.”

READ THE TESTIMONY: Uvalde families forced to wait 13 hours for Texas House hearing on AR-15 changes

But it would require a shift in political climate, Rottinghaus said. Politics have only grown more polarized and more extreme over the past several years — on both sides of the aisle — and Texas Republicans have “created an intractable problem on guns,” he said.

“Despite there being more gun violence between now and the next legislative session, it’s going to require a significant change in mindset from the members — and probably a change, politically, in the makeup of the chambers to move the needle on those policies,” Rottinghaus said. “And I don’t see that happening.”

[email protected]

Source link


Click Here For The Original Source.

National Cyber Security