Gov. Abbott responds to Uvalde shooting with school safety, police training, special committee

Texas governor prioritizes school safety with legislature special committee in wake of shooting

PATRICK SVITEK, Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday called on the Texas Legislature to form special committees to make legislative recommendations in response to the Uvalde school shooting.

In a letter to House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer, Abbott told his fellow Republicans the state “must reassess the twin issues of school safety and mass violence.” He said the committee process should start immediately and outlined five topics he would like the committees to take up.

(The House) will get to work immediately.”

— Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan

Notably, the topics include firearm safety. Last week, Abbott essentially ruled out gun restrictions as a response to the massacre, in which a gunman killed 19 students and two adults last week at Robb Elementary School. He focused his attention on mental health care and school security in his public comments.

The other topics Abbott charged leadership with making recommendations on were school safety, mental health, social media and police training.

Phelan responded to Abbott’s call by saying in a statement that “conversations about the issues outlined by Gov. Abbott are already underway in the Texas House and will continue to be a top priority in the months leading up to the next school year and the legislative session.” He added that the House “will get to work immediately.”

A spokesperson for Patrick did not immediately respond to comment.

The committees are different from a special legislative session, which Democrats — and at least a couple Republicans — have asked for since the shooting. Abbott has not ruled that out.

Abbott’s critics quickly argued that the time for committees has passed. They pointed out that the Legislature also formed special committees after mass shootings in 2019, and those discussions did not prevent the Uvalde school shooting from happening.

Abbott’s Democratic challenger for reelection, Beto O’Rourke, panned Abbott’s push for legislative committees.

“Anyone can call for a committee. Only a governor can call a special session,” O’Rourke tweeted. “Do your job.”

The 2019 committees on gun violence followed the anti-Hispanic massacre at a Walmart in El Paso. A Democratic state senator from the area, César Blanco, sent Abbott a letter Wednesday saying that he appreciated the call for committees since the Uvalde shooting but noted, “We have solutions ready now.”

He cited nine bills he filed in the first session after the Walmart shooting, including a proposal to extend background checks to cover private gun sales. While Patrick initially showed interest in that idea — even suggesting he would stand up to the National Rifle Association to pass it — it was a short-lived crusade and the legislation never got a Senate committee hearing.

The Texas State Teachers Association called Abbott’s announcement Wednesday “very weak.”

“The victims’ families and all Texans deserve better than that,” the association’s president, Ovidia Molina, said in a statement.

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