The Texas Senate moved Tuesday to abolish the cap on how many trained school teachers and support staff — known as school marshals — can carry guns on public school campuses, nearly an hour after the House voted to approve a separate and sweeping school safety bill.
Under the marshal program, school personnel, whose identities are kept secret from all but a few local officials, are trained to act as armed peace officers in the absence of law enforcement. Currently, schools that participate in the program can only designate one marshal per 200 students or one marshal per building.
The legislation — House Bill 1387 by Republican state Rep. Cole Hefner of Mt. Pleasant — would remove that limit, a move proponents of the legislation say will make it easier for smaller districts to participate in the state program.
Lawmakers began discussing the program — and several other school safety measures — after a deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School last year.
“Last summer, we heard how successful the school marshal program has been been,” said state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the Senate sponsor of the bill and author of a similar piece of legislation that passed the upper chamber last month. “We also heard how we can improve the program.”
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The bill passed 20-11, with only state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, bucking his party to support the measure. Since the House already approved the legislation, the bill only needs a final stamp of approval in the Senate before it can head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Creighton said the bill would not force school districts to implement a marshal program but would give them the flexibility to decide how many marshals they want to appoint should they choose to participate. Advocacy groups, though, are wary of increasing the number of guns in Texas classrooms and have long sounded the alarm about the disparate impacts of the potential new state law.
“If we put an unlimited number of guns in our schools, we’re only creating an unlimited number of potential mistakes that could harm our children,” said Hilary Whitfield, volunteer leader with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Hefner’s bill is the latest piece of legislation related to the marshal program the Texas Senate has advanced this session. Last month, it approved another measure by Republican state Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury that would allow local school boards to let their marshals carry concealed guns on campuses instead of being required to keep them locked up. The chamber also approved a bill by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, that would give school marshals immunity from lawsuits for any “reasonable action” taken to maintain safety. Both Birdwell’s and Hughes’ measures failed to gain traction in the Texas House, however.
Although bills to expand the controversial marshal program have drawn ire from gun control advocates, they were among many suggestions Gov. Greg Abbott outlined for the Legislature in a 43-page plan released weeks after a shooting at Santa Fe High School that killed 10 people.