Legislators focus on school safety, guns

Legislators focus on school safety, guns

Political fallout continues from the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children dead, and the Texas Legislature is not immune. Sen. Tommy Williams, a Republican from The Woodlands whose district includes Jefferson County, leads a bipartisan trio of lawmakers who are proposing the creation of school district crime control districts, new taxing entities that can fund additional security measures or free up dollars for other expenditures.

Williams has joined with Democrat Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, and Republican Rep. Dan Huberty, former Humble school board president and a member of the House Education Committee, to push the “Texas School District Security Act,” which would give taxpayers the right to approve new taxing districts, modeled on local Crime Control Districts that taxes local residents to pay for additional security measures in their subdivisions.

“I know just how tight state and local budgets are these days. I also know that we need to pay as we go, avoid running up debt and empower local school districts to decide what the best policy is for them,” said Williams. “This plan also underscores accountability to voters.”

About a quarter of the school districts in Texas have reached the state-mandated $1.17 tax cap for maintenance and operations, and the thinking is that some might actually have voters inclined to support a new taxing district.

In an unrelated move, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has proposed providing state-funded special weapons training to schoolteachers.

Some Texas lawmakers have echoed calls in Wyoming, Utah, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alaska urging legislation to block enforcement of any new federal gun laws. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and to require background checks for all gun sales.

Gov. Rick Perry responded by saying, “The Second Amendment to the Constitution is a basic right of free people and cannot be nor will it be abridged by the executive power of this or any other president.”

Texas State Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton) filed a bill Tuesday, Jan. 22, that would prohibit any enforcement of pending federal laws.

“My heart goes out to every victim of gun violence,” said Otto, “but my head knows that banning or restricting guns, magazines or ammunition won’t prevent criminals from getting guns and using them for evil purposes, and that good people need guns to protect and defend themselves.”

Otto’s bill – House Bill 553, known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act  would prohibit enforcement of any federal law or regulation in attempts to confiscate or ban any firearm, limit the size of a magazine, or the amount of ammunition for any gun, or impose tax or registration requirements on guns or ammo.

Second Amendment scholar Sanford Levinson at the University of Texas School of Law doubts the measure, even if passed, would have much effect. “It is totally and utterly without any possible legal validity unless it independently happens to be the case that the federal laws in question are unconstitutional,” Levinson said.

The gun issue will continue to resonate in Austin throughout the session. On Jan. 19, a series of events were sponsored by a loose-knit coalition known as Guns Across America under the label “National Gun Appreciation Day” to underscore their support for Second Amendment rights. State Rep. James White (R-Hillister), whose district includes Hardin County, appeared at the Lone Star Indoor Gun Range in Lumberton.


For an editorial related to this article, see page 16 A.