Both the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and the House Committee on Public Education, chaired by Rep. Dan. Huberty (R-Houston), recently released interim reports with recommendations focused on improving school safety.
The Senate committee, which was formed as a result of the devastating school shooting in Santa Fe, was tasked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to study numerous issues, including school security options, mental health and extreme risk protective orders (also known as red flag laws).
In its interim report, the committee advised the Legislature to consider the appropriate level of funding for fusion centers, which promote the gathering and sharing of information across law enforcement agencies. During one of the committee’s hearings, Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner testified to the success of the North Central Texas Fusion Center in identifying and acting on social media threats.
With respect to issues relating to mental health, the Senate committee recommended that the Legislature consider methods to increase the availability of school counselors, licensed specialists in school psychology and social workers in schools, especially in rural areas of the state; consider expanding the use of telemedicine and telepsychiatry to help children in crisis access mental health services; and consider legislation to strengthen the state’s mental health system by leveraging the expertise of the state’s medical schools to create psychiatry hubs that connect pediatricians seeking consultation with mental health experts.
Additionally, while the committee evaluated the merits of extreme risk protective orders (red flag laws) that would allow the removal of firearms from potentially dangerous persons in certain circumstances, it did not recommend that the Legislature pursue legislation authorizing such orders. Instead, the committee focused on the effectiveness of current protective order laws and recommended that the Legislature consider legislation to clarify current statute on whether and when an individual convicted of domestic violence may possess a firearm legally. The committee also recommended that the Legislature consider clarifying current statute regarding the return of firearms to individuals who have been detained and declared to no longer be a risk to themselves or others.
In the House, the Public Education Committee released its preliminary interim report and focused several of its recommendations on improving school mental health services. After the Santa Fe school shooting, Speaker Joe Straus tasked the committee with reviewing various aspects of school safety, including emergency operations planning and student mental health.
With respect to mental health, the committee recommended that the Legislature ensure that local education agencies in rural areas or communities that have limited access to mental health services have the financial resources needed to participate in the Texas Tech Health Science Center’s Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral Project or similar programs utilizing telemedicine for psychiatric screenings. The committee also recommended that the Legislature provide additional funding to encourage partnerships between local education agencies and local mental health authorities, as well as other providers, to integrate and increase access to mental health services for students.
Additionally, the report included a recommendation that the Legislature ensure funding to help education service centers establish mental health crisis intervention teams that can be used by local education agencies as needed.
Regarding school security infrastructure, the House committee recommended that the Legislature provide the resources for a study regarding communications interoperability between local education agencies and law enforcement and determine whether state assistance with resources or planning is needed.
As discussed in a previous County Issues news article, several other committees are also reviewing school safety issues and should be releasing their interim reports with legislative recommendations prior to the beginning of the next session in January 2019. TAC staff will continue to monitor the issue.