Police at the Capitol say the state's lawmakers and their guests will be safe under the pink dome as the 82nd Legislature gets underway tomorrow. But lawmakers are encouraging vigilance after the Arizona shooting this weekend that left a congresswoman critically injured, six dead and 14 others wounded.
The Department of Public Safety had already beefed up security after shots were fired at the Capitol last January. There are metal detectors and X-ray machines at each entrance and more DPS troopers on site, including troopers on bikes. DPS installed more surveillance cameras and an emergency notification system to inform lawmakers via phone and e-mail about any potential problems. And they added an enhanced rapid tactical response team, a group of personnel stationed at the Capitol and trained to respond to active shooters, said DPS spokeswoman Lisa Block.
"I think that anyone going into the Capitol should feel confident that the security in place has been well thought out and is being applied for their safety," Block said.
But following the Arizona shooting, some legislators are personally briefing their staffs on the importance of safety.
"I've been talking to my staff, asking about who we tell about any threats we get," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. "In the past seven or eight years that I've been here, we get phone calls and e-mails here and there, but we need to know our resources a lot better."
Republican Rep. Dan Branch, of Dallas, said his focus is on vigilance.
"We're going to be careful; we have to protect people," Branch said. "We've got more DPS coming in tomorrow, and hopefully we'll have more in the chamber."
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said lawmakers need to be conscious of their own political rhetoric and its effect on others.
"While it is too early to speculate into the motivation behind this act, it is important to realize one thing: Words have consequences," Martinez Fischer wrote in his weekly online newsletter. "Civility in discourse should not be a campaign buzzword — it needs to be a reality."
Block said DPS is mindful of the Arizona events and will look both to legislators and to visitors to keep the Capitol safe.
"We are proactively looking for threats to security," Block said. "But if anyone is at the Capitol and sees something suspicious, they should let a trooper know."
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