Texas House gives initial approval to school safety bill

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Lawmakers in the Texas House have given initial approval to a bill that aims to provide a wide range of solutions to enhance and ensure school safety.   

The bill, Senate Bill 11, was authored by State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood. It’s sponsored in the Texas House by Republican Rep. Greg Bonnen, who is also from Friendswood. Both lawmakers represent a district that includes Santa Fe. A gunman killed 10 people and injured 13 others at Santa Fe High School last May, which led the state’s top leaders to hold roundtables and issue recommendations to improve school safety throughout Texas. The Texas Senate approved the bill 29-2 in late April and it cleared the Texas House Committee on Public Education this month.  

SB 11 would require school districts to establish threat assessment teams, integrate trauma-informed practices in the school environment and include substitute teachers among educators who receive safety training. It also requires the Texas School Safety Center to set up a random or need-based cycle for the center’s review and verification of each emergency operations plan for public school districts and public junior college districts.  

The legislation also requires a school and safety security committee that includes: representatives of local emergency management and law enforcement departments, certain members of the district’s board of trustees, district personnel, a representative of a partnering open-enrollment charter school and parents or guardians of enrolled students. This committee would periodically provide recommendations to district trustees and administrators about the emergency operation plan and best practices identified by the Texas Education Agency, Texas School Safety Center or a safety or security consulting service. 

“SB 11 establishes a statewide standard for building construction and maintenance with safety as the primary focus of the standards,” Bonnen explained Tuesday. “This legislation reduces the number of emergency drills from 10 to eight, but provides the flexibility to vary the types of these aid drills including lockdown, lockout, shelter in place and fire evacuation drills. SB 11 also requires districts to notify parents when the thread is received.”

Legislators have also prioritized including mental health components in their school safety proposals. SB 11 requires a local mental health authority to have a non-physician mental health professional to serve as a resource for districts located in its surrounding communities. This person would help district personnel with training on mental health first aid, trauma and prevention and intervention programs to help students coping with substance use. 

Bonnen also clarified that a threat assessment team may not provide a mental health care service to a student who is under 18 years of age unless the team obtains written consent from the parents of the person. The consent required must be submitted on something by the district that complies with all applicable state and federal law. 

Analysts with the state’s Legislative Budget Board estimate an impact of more than $530 million through the biennium ending in August 2021. The bill would set up a school safety allotment and those funds could help with training, security and facility needs. The latest fiscal note attached to the legislation estimates this would be set at $50 per student in average daily attendance. 

Several amendments aimed at increasing suicide prevention efforts were also added onto the bill. One of the amendments would also allow programs aimed at suicide prevention, intervention and postvention to qualify for funding through the safety allotment. 

Another area of this legislation also emphasizes teaching kids about healthy relationships, a proposal by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint.

“If we know that when kids have healthy relationships, they ask for help, they ask for resources and they have the support system around them,” she said.

Tuesday marks a key deadline where Senate bills must be debated and approved by the Texas House in order to move forward in the legislative process.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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