Opinion: Panel studies mass shooting prevention

by | Aug 2, 2018 | Opinion

A special interim committee of state lawmakers met July 24 at the Texas Capitol to further explore what can be done to prevent mass shootings like the one that resulted in 10 deaths and 10 injuries in May at Santa Fe High School.

Testimony before a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Security centered on “red flag” laws, in which a law enforcement entity or family member could petition a judge who may then order that a potentially dangerous person temporarily be prohibited from purchasing or otherwise acquiring or possessing a firearm.

More than a dozen other states have enacted red flag laws. Such laws allow a petitioner to present evidence of previous behaviors that demonstrate a public safety risk, such as:

— Domestic violence;

— Harm to animals;

— Reckless use of firearms;

— Threats to self or others; or

— Drug abuse.

Under such laws, a person who is the subject of a red flag order has a right to legal counsel and may offer counter evidence and argument in their defense. But if the judge decides the person poses a risk to public safety, they could be compelled to surrender their firearms to authorities.

A report on the July 24 hearing and three previous hearings of the select panel will be released to the public in early August, said Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood.

On May 30, Gov. Greg Abbott spoke positively about red flag laws in releasing a long list of recommendations for citizens and governmental bodies to take under the heading, “Preventing Threats in Advance.” Since then he has not mentioned red flag laws, however, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said recently that neither he nor the governor favor that approach.

MALC calls for actions

On July 26, the Trump administration failed to meet a federal court-ordered deadline to reunite all children under 5 years old who were separated from their families under President Trump’s zero-tolerance directive.

Two days earlier, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas Legislature recommended a list of actions for the state to take to provide impacted migrant families with appropriate care and to determine the role of the state in the reunification of children and families. MALC organized a working group of advocates, including key personnel from state agencies and members of the Texas House and Capitol staff. Here are a few of the working group’s recommendations:

— It is critical that the state reject any policy such as the licensing of family detention centers that may indefinitely prolong the detention of children;

— For children held in facilities longer than a few days, medical care standards must be improved with consultation from pediatricians. The standards should include mental and physical health evaluations, as well as follow-up appointments;

— Apply continued pressure for state oversight in cases of abuse and neglect within facilities;

— Require legal representation of separated parents;

— Continue to monitor the reunification process so that every child who has been separated from parents is reunited in a timely and cost-effective manner; and

— Require that the Legislative Budget Board conduct a cost analysis of the impact of the federal policies of zero-tolerance and family separation on the state, specifically on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Job growth continues

In its July report on the state’s economy, the Texas Workforce Commission said Texas had experienced 24 consecutive months of employment growth.

Also, some 27,200 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs were added in June, bringing the monthly unemployment rate down another tenth of a point to 4.0 percent.

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area recorded the month’s lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs, with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 2.4 percent. It was followed by the Amarillo MSA, which had the second-lowest with a rate of 3.1 percent. Following were the Austin-Round Rock and Odessa MSAs, which both recorded 3.2 percent for June.

Longtime state rep dies

Former state Rep. Delwin Jones died in Lubbock on July 25. He was 94.

A farmer, investor and veteran of World War II, Jones first was elected to the Texas House in 1964 and served consecutive two-year terms until 1972. He returned to the House in 1989 as a Republican and served consecutive terms until 2011.

Among Jones’s accomplishments were laws creating the Texas Tech Medical School, the Lubbock County Hospital District, the 137th District Court and many other entities.

Ed Sterling is the member services director for the Texas Press Association. His column is a weekly aggregation of news about the state’s government.

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