Texas Legislature 2019

Broad Texas school safety bill proposes threat assessment teams, expanded emergency training

It’s unclear how much it would cost to implement all of Sen. Larry Taylor’s proposals. Senate Bill 11 appears to take an unspecified amount from the rainy day fund to help cover the costs.

After an extended evening recess, Sen Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, begins an explanation of the committee substitute to House Bill 21, the school finance bill on Aug. 14, 2017. 
After an extended evening recess, Sen Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, begins an explanation of the committee substitute to House Bill 21, the school finance bill on Aug. 14, 2017.   Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune

The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.

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Texas’ Senate education chairman on Monday unveiled a sweeping school safety measure that touches on strengthening school security, “hardening” school infrastructure and mental health counseling.

Senate Bill 11, filed by Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, touches on a number of proposals Gov. Greg Abbott laid out in his 43-page school safety plan that followed the May shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 dead and 13 wounded.

Those proposals include beefing up mental health resources in schools by employing mental health professionals in Texas school districts; expanding emergency response training for district employees, including substitute teachers; and establishing threat assessment teams, which would help identify potentially dangerous students and determine the best ways to intervene before they become violent, to serve in Texas schools.

“Though nearly a year has passed since a shooting at Santa Fe High School took the lives of eight children and two teachers, it is critical that the Legislature keeps the topic of school safety at the forefront of our hearts and our conversations,” Taylor said in a news release. “It is my hope that the passage of this bill will help our schools prevent and prepare for similar events.” Taylor's news release said SB 11 would be heard by his committee on Tuesday.

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Among other things, SB 11 also designates at least $50 per student in a school district to go toward costs to “harden” state schools. That includes the installation of metal detectors, purchasing and maintenance of security cameras and employing peace officers or school marshals.

It’s unclear how much it would cost to implement all of Taylor’s proposals. SB 11 appears to take an unspecified amount from the rainy day fund to cover the costs, though the Senate's supplemental budget includes $100 million for school safety.

Other aspects of the governor’s plan, including getting rid of the lock-and-key requirement for school marshals and eliminating the cap on how many marshals each school can have, weren’t explicitly named in Taylor’s bill. Still, other Republican Senate lawmakers have proposed measures addressing these areas of his plan.

Bills with low numbers in either chamber are reserved for those leaders' top priorities. And school safety, among a number of other measures, topped Abbott’s priority list that the governor laid out last month during his State of the State address. During his speech, the governor reassured Texans that the Legislature would take steps this year to ensure a tragedy like the one at Santa Fe wouldn’t happen again.

“No student should be afraid to go to school. No parent should be fearful when dropping their child off at school,” Abbott said. "We must do all we can to make our schools safer. Working together, we will deliver on this promise to our parents, to our students and to our teachers.”