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Texas Senate passes school safety expansion, Patrick, Phelan feud escalates

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(The Center Square) – Ahead of the fourth special legislative session ending Dec. 7, the Texas Senate unanimously passed a school safety bill on Friday as conflict between the heads of the Texas legislature escalated.

The Texas Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 5, filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, on Friday. The bill allocates an additional $800 million to school safety funding as a Houston area school district averted a potential school shooting Thursday morning.

The bill was filed, considered in a public hearing, reported favorably with no amendments, read, and passed the Senate in one day on Friday. It relates to the school safety allotment under the Foundation School Program, establishes a school safety grant program, and appropriates funds.

“Ensuring the safety and security of every Texan, especially our children, is paramount to our work in the Texas Senate,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said. “Today, the Senate took swift action to continue supporting school security with the passage of Senate Bill 5. It will immediately add another $800 million to school safety funding.”

He then took the opportunity to attack the Republican-controlled House led by Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, which killed several education and school choice bills.

“The House killed an omnibus education bill, which would have provided funding support for teachers and schools, as well as given parents school choice,” Patrick said. “Instead, they passed HB 2 and HJR 1, on school safety which would require a constitutional amendment vote next May. Even if it were to pass, our schools would have to continue to wait another 7 months or more for additional funding. SB 5 sends $800 million to schools immediately for them to hire the needed security personnel and implement other necessary school safety initiatives.”

“As we have seen repeatedly throughout the four special sessions this year along with the regular legislative session, the House takes an irresponsible approach to funding and implementing solid policy for the people of Texas, and this is no exception,” he continued.

Patrick called on the House to return to Austin.

“The House has 5 days to pass legislation and needs to return immediately to pass SB 2 to provide teachers a pay raise, … SB 5 to provide school safety funding, [and]… SB 6 to ensure our constitutional amendments that were overwhelmingly passed a month ago can go forward.”

Voters overwhelmingly passed the amendments in November. However, opponents filed six lawsuits, including blocking property tax cuts and cost-of-living increases for retired teachers.

Phelan doubled down supporting the House’s efforts, saying, “The Texas House has continuously demonstrated its commitment to ensuring the safety of our schoolchildren and campus personnel, most recently passing $2.2 billion in school safety funding via House Bill 2 and House Joint Resolution 1, both of which passed unanimously by the House on Nov. 17 and would’ve constitutionally ensured school safety funding for Texas students in the future.

“The Senate, however, waited an entire week to receive and refer these critical measures and has since taken no action on these items for the past 10 days of a 30-day special session. Now the Senate has proposed an entirely new bill with only five days left of a session—knowing full well there is not enough time to get it passed and sent to the Governor’s desk—so that Dan Patrick can take to social media, pretending to care about adequately funding school safety while blaming others for the ramifications of his own inactions. This is nothing more than a played-out political stunt that we’ve seen from him time and again.”

He also said Patrick “never gave the time of day” to HB 100, which the House passed in May to increase teacher salaries and went nowhere in the Senate.

“To now claim that he is leading on the issues after repeatedly killing House legislation to accomplish these objectives is a deliberate calculation designed to confuse Texans and muddy the waters with mistruths and obfuscations. Texas schoolchildren, families and teachers deserve better than his political gimmicks,” he said.

While the legislature may be at a stalemate, school districts, like Spring Branch ISD in Houston, took school safety matters into their own hands and implemented safety protocols that officials say have already saved children’s lives.

SBISD trustee John Perez, who is also running for the Texas House HD133 seat, told The Center Square, “After the tragedy at Robb Elementary,” SBISD in 2022 “ramped up funding for additional officer coverage districtwide and implemented policies to harden our defenses. This included ensuring external doors are locked and students wear badge IDs at all times.

“We also brought on Police Chief Larry Baimbridge because of his tactical experience. While we acknowledge the importance of money and protocols, leadership and culture and training are critical to ensure effective response to active shooter scenarios. As a result, our state of operational readiness was on full display Thursday.”

Perez, a Republican, also said both the House and Senate have reached agreements in the past having both passed bills to increase the school safety allotment. He says he is optimistic legislators “will come together to prioritize school safety for all Texas schoolchildren.”

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