SENATORS LAY OUT SCHOOL SECURITY MEASURE
|Senator Tommy Williams (left) and Senator John Whitmire answer questions about their proposal to give local school districts flexibility relating to security funding.|
(Austin) — Chairmen of two influential Senate committees unveiled a plan Tuesday that would give local school districts the power to enhance security on campus. Senate Finance Committee Chair Tommy Williams of Houston and Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire of Houston told reporters that the state must take action to prevent a mass shooting like the one that happened in Newtown, CT in December from occurring in Texas. Williams said that the plan he laid out will keep school children safe. "I believe this proposal is a Texas solution that will save lives without sacrificing our freedom," he said.
Currently, schools have to pay for security out of their maintenance and operations budget, a broad fund that pays for everything from utility bills to new music instruments for the band. Today, if schools want to do something to enhance campus security, they have to decide what they want to cut in order to do it. The plan proposed by Williams and Whitmire Tuesday would let districts create a separate fund that could only be used for security measures, but would not take funding away from other school programs.
This plan would give local school districts the power to create a new revenue source dedicated solely to school security. It would permit districts to hold local option elections to increase sales or property taxes, provided those taxes aren't already at their statutory caps. Before the election could take place, a district must hold public meetings to lay out how the new money would be spent, as well as detailing the district's security plan. If voters in the district approve the increase, that money could be used for things like more licensed peace officers on campus as well as enhanced security and screening measures. This tax plan would have to be renewed by the voters every five years and could be recalled by petition at any time.
The proposed plan does not include any additional state funds to enhance school security, but Williams, who will lead the Senate efforts on the budget, said that this measure would not preclude there being additional school security funds in the biennial budget. The proposal laid out Tuesday, said Williams, will empower communities to tailor their campus security to their own local needs. "I believe that school communities are smart enough to figure out what works best for them and how much they are willing to commit to solve their security issues," he said.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, January 23 at 11 a.m.