AP NEWS

Texas governor sees school safety as a top issue

February 5, 2019
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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, listens as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, gives his State of the State Address in the House Chamber, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared school safety an “emergency” issue of his second term Tuesday following one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings last year near Houston, but the Republican put no dollar amount on the table for schools and made no mention of tightening gun laws.

His clearest call during his State of the State address was giving students better access to mental health care, but Democrats said they were uncertain about the rest after the governor gave school safety preferential status that allows legislation to be fast-tracked.

Only now is the Texas Legislature in session for the first time since a student gunman opened fire at Santa Fe High School in May 2018, killing 10 people . The attack came just three months after 17 people were killed at a high school in Florida, which responded by passing a $400 million school safety bill and raising the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21.

But any school safety package in Texas is all but certain to include no new firearm restrictions.

Abbott had suggested shortly after the Santa Fe attack that Texas — one of the nation’s most gun-friendly states — should look for ways to keep guns away from people who pose “an immediate danger to others,” which is the point of so-called red flag laws. But he later retreated following backlash from gun enthusiasts.

“It’s not enough to give our students a quality education. We must create a learning environment that is safe,” Abbott said. “No student should be afraid to go to school. No parent should be fearful when dropping their child off at school.”

He elaborated somewhat more in a budget document after his speech, writing that “the state must provide the necessary funding to employ school-hardening tools and strategies.” But he did not attach a dollar amount and said schools should have flexibility in using the money.

Abbott did request $4 million for more law enforcement training, and fully funding a school safety research center at Texas State University.

“We all agree with the governor in making our school safe,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic leader in the Texas House. But he said he was waiting to see more details.

Shortly after the Santa Fe school shooting, Abbott held three days of meetings with law enforcement officials, educators, mental health experts, attack survivors and victims’ family members. A gun control group, Texas Gun Sense, got a seat next to the governor.

“I did feel like there was a foot in the door of some common-sense firearm regulation,” said Gyl Switzer, the group’s executive director, on Tuesday. She added, “I don’t give up hope.”

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This version of the story corrects the date of the Santa Fee High School to May 2018.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber