Uvalde shooting: Task force to protect all Texans proposes better access to mental health care, school safety after massacre

A special Texas Senate committee that met after the Uvalde school shooting made a series of policy recommendations Wednesday on school and gun safety, mental health, social media and police training.

In an 88-page report, the Special Committee to Protect All Texans acknowledged that “more must be done to ensure the safety of Texas students” after the May massacre that killed 19 students and two teachers. The report is based in part on two days of testimony from police, mental health and education professionals and gun safety advocates in June.

The commission made a single gun-related recommendation: Make the purchase of a gun for someone prohibited from owning one a statewide felony. Illegal purchases of firearms — when a person steps in to buy a gun for someone who is prohibited from owning one — are illegal under federal law, although the panel expressed concern that U.S. attorneys too rarely prosecute violators.

Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019 recommended banning straw purchases under state law in a report prepared by his office after the mass shooting at the El Paso Walmart. But the legislature failed to pass it.

Such a law would not have prevented the Uvalde shooter from buying guns. He had legally purchased two semi-automatic rifles in the days before the shooting.

SEE ALSO: Shooting survivor Uvalde, 10, advocates for assault weapons ban on Capitol Hill

Regarding school safety, the committee proposed the creation of review teams to conduct vulnerability assessments of school campuses and share the results with school leaders. It also proposed additional funding for grants to improve security at individual campuses based on need.

He called for the addition of training centers for the school marshal program, through which teachers and staff can become certified to carry weapons on campus. Since the program debuted in 2013, only 84 of the state’s more than 1,200 districts have signed up.

As for mental health care, the commission recommended expanding access to the state’s mental health telemedicine system to all school districts within a “reasonable period of time.” He also urged lawmakers to look for ways to increase the number of mental health professionals to support this expansion, such as allowing practitioners to volunteer; offering loan repayment benefits for professionals, especially in rural areas; offering paid scholarships and internships; and streamlining licensing requirements.

The committee also recommended the creation of a state database of inpatient beds in the community, including those for pediatric patients, noting that local authorities and police “bear significant costs in transporting patients who require immediate hospitalisation”.

Regarding social media, the commission said the Legislature should encourage the Department of Public Safety and local districts to increase use of iWatch Texas, the state’s suspicious activity reporting network. This system aims to provide a single center across the country for law enforcement agencies to verify threats.

As for police training, the commission recommended adding Advanced Law enforcement Rapid Response Training to the basic course for state officers. He suggested the Texas Law Enforcement Commission repeal its own active shooter training requirement to avoid a cut that is “unnecessary and wastes time and resources.” School districts should be required to share their emergency operations plans with local law enforcement, the commission said, and police should have digital access to the mental health records of people they encounter, a resource that has proven valuable to inmates. while assessing prisoners.

The commission acknowledged that some lawmakers have proposed raising the purchase age for certain assault weapons from 18 to 21, arguing that most attacks on schools are carried out by teenagers. However, the report noted a “strong lack of consensus” among committee members on the idea. Abbott also said he opposes raising the purchase age for certain rifles to 21.

RELATED: Texas abandons fight to prevent 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying guns in public

In a letter attached to the report, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, endorsed the straw purchase ban. But he said the Legislature should consider other gun-related proposals that Texans have expressed support for. He cited a Quinnipiac University poll from earlier this year that found 73 percent of Texas voters support raising the minimum gun purchase age to 21. The same poll found that 68 percent of Texas voters support so-called red flag laws, which aim to take away guns from people deemed dangerous.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez, one of the most vocal critics of how the Department of Public Safety contributed to the flawed police response to the shooting, said he welcomed the proposals recommended by the committee. But the San Antonio Democrat criticized Abbott for spending billions on his border security initiative, Operation Lone Star, when student safety should come first, he said.

“Should we be spending more money on mental health in Texas? Absolutely. Do we need more school hardening?… Absolutely,” Gutierrez said. “But the $4 billion we committed to border security should have been for school. Everything we do is about priorities.”

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, declined to comment on the proposals. Abbott didn’t answer.

The legislative session begins on January 10.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs — and engages with Texans — about public policy, politics, government and issues across the state.

SEE ALSO: Amid fallout from Uvalde shooting, Texas DPS seeks $1.2 billion for active shooter training facility

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