WEEK IN REVIEW
FINAL COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL SAFETY BILL REVEALED
(AUSTIN) — A proposal combining the House and Senate school safety plans was presented before the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, moving that priority bill closer to the governor's desk. Following last year's tragic shooting at Ross Elementary in Uvalde, Governor Greg Abbott placed the issue on his emergency items list. Both chambers appointed interim committees to study the issue of school safety, and the bill presented in the form of HB 3 by Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols represents the culmination of those efforts. "It is very extensive and wide-ranging," he said of the hybrid proposal. "It has many components that altogether, I believe, will improve the safety environment of schools in our state."
The bill grants clear authority to monitor and enforce school safety to the Texas Education Agency, ending the confusing system of authority being split between that agency and the Texas School Safety Center. The Center will still advise TEA on best practices, but school safety plans will be overseen by a new governor-appointed and Senate-approved official in a dedicated school safety department within the agency. It also combines the House and Senate approaches to funding school safety, taking a per student allotment of $10 and adding it to a minimum $15,000 grant per campus. Nichols said that the previous allotment of just under $10 with no additional grants had school administrators scrambling to meet security needs. "They were reaching into their reserves and contingency money to buy safety stuff, they were issuing bonds," said Nichols. "So I'm thrilled that we have put another $600 million out there." Once passed by the committee, the bill will head to the floor for approval. In talks with House authors, Nichols said that they wanted to see additional provisions added into the bill, so it is likely this bill will have to be hashed out in conference committee before it can be signed into law.
Drivers would need to pay closer attention to roadside responders or faced sharply increased fines under a bill considered before the Senate Transportation Committee this week. The state's current Move Over or Slow Down law requires drivers to give clearance to roadside work or emergency vehicles with flashers activated by moving over one lane or, if that's not possible, slowing to 20 miles below the posted speed limit. Flower Mound Senator Tan Parker told the committee the current fines of $200 aren't sufficient to protect roadside workers. "This session alone we have already had a handful of tragedies involving roadside responders," he said.
His bill, HB 898. would raise the fine to $500 for a first offense and escalate to $1,250 for subsequent offenses. In the event that a driver ignoring this law causes an accident that injures or kills a roadside worker, they would face a class A misdemeanor, which can carry up to a year in prison. "I've heard the criticisms that the fine increase is 'a heavy financial burden for a driver that violates this law'," said Parker. "The costs to the reckless driver who violates this law are far less in comparison to the impact it has on our roadside workers who are injured or killed because of a reckless driver."
Tuesday, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved a bill that would allow prosecutors to seek harsher sentences for strangers who permanently injure people in random attacks. Under current law, the maximum sentence for assault with a deadly weapon is 20 years, but the for the victim, the consequences are life long. "The stranger who stabbed me will be free in seven years and I serve the life sentence," testified Brandi Todd, who was left permanently paralyzed after a random attack at a Stephenville park in 2013. Under HB 28, sponsored by Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell, aggravated assaults that result in permanent neurological disability could be elevated to a first degree felony, which brings a maximum sentence of 99 years. The bill was swiftly moved out of committee by chair and Houston Senator John Whitmire, and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 15 at noon.