Senate panel conducts hearings on school violence, safety
AUSTIN — A panel of Texas Senate members on June 11 and 12 received input about ways to improve security on public school campuses.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, formed the legislative body’s Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Safety following the May shooting at Santa Fe High School in which a student shot and killed 10 people and injured 10 others.
The Senate district of Committee Chair Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, includes Santa Fe Independent School District. Taylor underlined the complexity of the problem, saying, “This is a multi-faceted deal. There is no one solution. A metal detector is not the end-all.”
The committee heard ideas regarding enhanced control of campus access and improved safety measures such as security cameras. San Antonio ISD Police Chief Joe Curiel told the committee that police presence works as a deterrent and preventative measure, and that increasing positive interactions between officers and students can help students feel more comfortable communicating about actual and possible problems with officers.
Midway ISD School Resource Officer Jeff Foley told the committee, “While we need to do our best to keep these kids secure and keep them safe, we also don’t want them to feel like they’re in a prison.”
Christopher Huckabee of the Texas Society of Architects School Safety Workgroup talked about internal and external threats. He said school design is trending toward more compact structures that are built “up” rather than “out” so sections of a building can be locked down to contain a shooter.
Kim Vickers, director of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, said that under current law, school marshals must be licensed to carry a handgun in the state, must be employees of the school, must complete an 80-hour training course and pass a psychological evaluation. Vickers said schools may elect to use a less restrictive “guardianship program” that only requires that a school board to vote to allow specific teachers or staff to be armed, but there is no state oversight over those.
Texas School Safety Center Director Kathy Martinez-Prather said the Lone Star State has the largest on-campus police presence in the country. While more than 240 school districts have their own police departments, many more use school resource officers who are local police assigned to the school, she added.
Speaker orders studies
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, in response to the Santa Fe High School shooting, charged a number of House committees to study issues related to school security and firearm safety and to make recommendations based on their findings by the month of August, when the new school year begins.
Straus said his instructions to committees reflect ideas recommended by Gov. Greg Abbott and suggestions offered by educators, behavioral health experts, law enforcement and others.
Fraud unit is recognized
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on June 12 announced that his office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit received the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s award of excellence in fighting fraud, waste and abuse.
Paxton said the unit was selected for the top award from 50 units nationwide because of its “highly effective collaboration with the Office of the Inspector General, the FBI and other federal partners.”
During fiscal year 2017, the unit obtained 108 indictments, 137 convictions and led the nation in recovering more than $534 million, Paxton said.
“Medicaid fraud drives up the cost of health care for all of us and steals from taxpayer-funded programs that help Texans receive medical care,” added Paxton.
Proclamation is extended
Gov. Greg Abbott on June 8 extended his disaster proclamation for Texas counties impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Abbott issued the original proclamation on Aug. 23, 2017, and has extended the proclamation every month since then.
The proclamation applies to the counties of Aransas, Austin, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Harris, Jackson, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Liberty, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Waller, Wharton and Wilson.
Also, Angelina, Atascosa, Bastrop, Bexar, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Cameron, Comal, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Jasper, Kerr, Lee, Leon, Madison, Milam, Montgomery, Newton, Orange, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Trinity, Tyler, Walker, Washington and Willacy.
The proclamation authorizes the use of all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with the disaster.
ed sterling is the Director of Members Services at Texas Press Association.