Category: Safety

Texas A&M Commerce Grieving Following Two Fatal Shootings within Three Months

This past Monday, a shooting at Texas A&M Commerce took the life of two women and sent a 2-year old boy to the hospital. This tragedy comes just three months after a shooting following a Texas A&M Commerce homecoming celebration that left 12 injured and two people dead. In both instances, no suspect has been convicted of murder, leaving the campus and Greenville community mourning without answers. 

Texas students face significant challenges going to school — be they economic, physical, or cultural. The last worry on their minds should be whether or not they can feel secure on their own campus. 

As State Representatives, our job is to ensure we do everything we can to prevent tragedies such as these. Our primary task must be to support our students and provide safe environments that promote innovation and learning, not fear. Texas A&M Commerce students noted that, despite statewide policies, the campus’ gun safety regulations are clearly in need of revisiting.

Since 2016, Texas has had its “campus carry” law in effect. The law allows:

  1. Licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on campus, and 
  2. Gun owners to store handguns in safes within dorms and university residences. 

While there are some restrictions to the concealed carry law, including mental health and student service locations, we need to seriously consider the implications of these laws and if they are costing students their safety. Additionally, we must continue pursuing common-sense policies that can help us put an end to gun violence.

Photo courtesy of Washington Post.

ExxonMobil Lawsuit Battle: The State vs. Harris County

Over the last decade, Texas Republicans have shown a pattern of disregard for public safety and the rights of local governments, notably in terms of environmental protections. We now face contaminated water and air, incalculable injuries, and even fatalities due to the GOP’s indifference.The State repeatedly chips away at local governments’ ability to hold polluters accountable for negligent behavior. This has become increasingly evident in recent State-filed lawsuits against polluters in the Harris County area, specifically in county and State-filed lawsuits against ExxonMobil.

Within a span of five months, the Baytown ExxonMobil power plant had two severe, life-threatening explosions. The first released contaminants into the surrounding area for nearly 8 days following the explosion. The second left 37 people injured. The power plant has also been violating pollution laws since 2013. Harris County immediately took action and filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, stating the company violated the Texas Clean Air Act. Days later, the State filed the same lawsuit. 

In a hearing this Friday (1/17), the State will present the case that Harris County’s lawsuit is in violation of the Texas Water Code.

Beyond taking away local governments’ right to file environmental lawsuits that affect their communities, a State-filed lawsuit against ExxonMobil has two very large implications. First, the case will be heard in Austin rather than Harris County. Second, any money from civil penalties will go directly into the State’s general revenue rather than being split between the State and Harris County. 

The fight over the ExxonMobil case is one of many attempts by Attorney General Paxton to stomp out local control. Over the past few sessions, the State voted to limit the amount of civil penalties a county may collect from a lawsuit, forced local governments to notify the State when a lawsuit is filed and allow the State to take over the lawsuit, and barred counties from hiring outside parties. These actions have all been taken under the guise of ‘unity’ and ‘uniformity.’ However, these policies enable the State, and Attorney General Paxton, to control the lawsuits and ultimately let polluters off easy. 

Texas House Mass Violence Committee Continues Work in 2020

On Thursday, the Texas House Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety will hold a hearing in the city of El Paso just five months following the El Paso Walmart terrorist attack. Family members of victims and those directly affected by the mass shooting will provide testimony. 

As the date grows closer, we can’t help but consider the legislature’s response, and specifically  its failures to the people of Texas. In the wake of the El Paso mass shooting, Governor Abbott spent $5.5 million additional dollars on law enforcement, established a Domestic Terrorism Force, a Texas Safety Commission, released eight executive orders, and authored a Texas Safety Action Report. Additionally, Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick created House and Senate Committees on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

While this list seems robust, there has been little if any collective action since this summer’s shootings to address gun violence in Texas. Since the inception of these committees and task forces, two additional mass shootings have ravaged Texas – both in Midland/Odessa and White Settlement. People continue to lose their lives and Governor Abbott has seemingly given up on forwarding any potential solutions to the issue.

While Governor Abbott avoided meaningful gun safety reform, Texas House Democrats stood together across the state to call for an emergency special session. We prioritized five should-be simple policy changes that the majority of Texas supports: 

  1. Extreme risk protective orders
  2. Close background check loopholes
  3. Ban the Sale of High Capacity Magazines
  4. Limit the Open Carry of Certain Semi-Automatic Long Guns
  5. Require Stolen Guns be Reported to Law Enforcement

We want our places of worship to be filled with joy and reverence, not fear or hate. We want our playgrounds to be a place of imagination and wonder, not shrouded in suspicion. We want our citizens to live with open arms and without the constant threat of violence. 

In 2019 alone, 37 Texans have died in mass shootings. We know we can do better and our goal for 2020 must be to set politics aside and tirelessly work to protect Texans.

Photo above courtesy of KFOXTV in El Paso.

Supporting Dr. Blasey Ford must go further

Last week’s U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were at times inspiring and at times infuriating. Dr. Ford was credible and confident when recounting the trauma she lived through and has carried for decades. Meanwhile, Judge Kavanaugh’s irate and dishonest testimony made it clear he does not have the temperament to serve on the Supreme Court.

 

Dr. Ford’s courage has rightly inspired thousands upon thousands of Americans across the country, but supporting her must go further than this one moment in time. The cultural changes advanced by the #MeToo movement are absolutely critical. Additionally, we must pursue policy changes that can help those impacted by sexual assault, violence, and harassment.

 

Last session, members of the House Democratic Caucus passed laws that took important steps to combat sexual assault. The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) has a comprehensive list — here’s a few examples to highlight.

 

  • Rep. Victoria Neave passed HB 1729, creating a grant program to cover the costs of thousands of untested rape kits.

 

  • Rep. Donna Howard passed HB 281, creating an electronic tracking system to track the location and status of sexual assault evidence kits statewide.

 

  • Rep. Carol Alvarado passed SB 77 (HB 1766), which ensures that victims of abuse are not forced to co-parent with their attacker.

 

  • Rep. Ana Hernandez passed HB 249, which ensured definitions for “abuse” and “neglect” were uniform across the Department of Family and Protective Services while also giving CPS authority to investigate cases of alleged abuse and neglect that occur at a child-care facility.

 

  • Rep. Senfronia Thompson passed a series of laws — at least eight, according to TAASA — to help combat human trafficking and sexual offenders across the state.

 

  • Rep. Ina Minjarez passed HB 2124 to ensure state and federal agencies share information about active duty members of the U.S. Armed forces under investigation for abuse or neglect.

 

  • Rep. Terry Canales passed HB 822 designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Reps. Joe Moody, Eddie Lucio III, Diego Bernal, and Gene Wu passed various House and Senate bills that will fix and improve processes in family law courts, public schools, and evidence collection.

 

Our caucus has accomplished a lot, and there is a lot left to be done — including necessary improvements of internal policies and practices at the Texas Capitol as it relates to sexual assault, violence, and harassment. As the HDC continues its work on public education, health care, and criminal justice in preparation for the 86th Regular Session, we are confident our caucus will keep the values and policies of the #MeToo movement front and center in our efforts.

 

Gov. Abbott’s inaction on school safety

Two months ago, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a lengthy “school safety plan” to address the tragic shootings at Santa Fe High School. The announcement pacified the immediate call from community leaders for gun violence prevention. But in those two months, Texans have seen no action or leadership from Abbott on the topic — and the biggest concern about his proposal remains unaddressed.

 

Abbott Already Caving on Red Flag Laws

In his original plan, Gov. Abbott encouraged lawmakers to examine how “red flag laws” — laws that allow a judge to issue a court order to remove guns from individuals that are determined to be a threat to themselves or others — may be amended during the next session. Chairman Joe Moody held a lengthy Criminal Jurisprudence Committee meeting on the subject that generated positive discussion on how the law could work.

Unfortunately, Abbott showed no leadership on the matter. And once Lt. Governor Dan Patrick spoke out in opposition to the policy idea, Abbott — just like he did all last session — deferred to Patrick’s politics and has now signaled he doesn’t see this issue moving forward.

 

Misusing Federal Dollars for School Hardening?

As the Caucus laid out in its report on Abbott’s proposal, two-thirds of his suggestions that require funding specified no method of financing at all. And there are still serious questions about how he intends to finance the “school hardening” proposals in his plan.
In his plan, Abbott suggested that the state could use up to $62 million in federal grant dollars for “immediate school safety improvements, including school hardening.” However, the grant dollars he identified cannot be used for metal detectors or one-time school facility improvements, a fact that even the Texas Education Agency made clear in the updated grant application instructions they sent to school districts following Abbott’s announcement.
How does Abbott plan to pay for safer schools for our students?

With billions in the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, the state has money ready for these kind of one-time expenditures. Would Abbott and Patrick be willing to use those Rainy Day Fund dollars to keep our kids safe?

 

Texas House Democrats Taking Action

These past two months have left us with more questions than answers. To date, the Santa Fe School Shooting appears to follow the unfortunate cycle of so many other school shootings in recent years — tragedy, outrage, and then nothing of substance from Republicans who are unwilling to support real solutions for gun violence prevention.

Texas Democrats are taking action. Rep. Joe Moody continues to push his red flag law proposals. Rep. Canales is exploring legislation to limit the 3D printing of guns, and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Rep. Gina Hinojosa continue to meet with student activists who are committed to making their schools safe places to learn. A full list of proposals from House Democrats is listed below.

 

The stakes are too high for us to do nothing. Hopefully, Abbott and Patrick will reconsider their positions on these important issues.

 

The list above details some of the gun violence prevention proposals members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus have laid out in recent sessions.

 

 

Statement regarding the Santa Fe school shooting tragedy

The Texas House Democratic Caucus is heartbroken about the senseless tragedy in Santa Fe Friday, a mass shooting that left ten people dead and several others injured. We stand together in offering our sincere condolences to the students, parents, educators, administrators and first responders who were affected by this mindless act of gun violence.

And while it is right to send our condolences, our thoughts and our prayers, we also know that is not enough. As Chairman Rafael Anchia said Friday:

 

 

The roundtables Gov. Abbott has called for are fine – we welcome that discussion. We’ve been ready to have that discussion for a long time, and we welcome our seat at the table to have serious conversations about solutions to the gun violence epidemic in Texas and across this country. However, we have a responsibility also to act and to act immediately to prevent an increase of gun deaths to prevent the loss of more life in Texas and across the country and protect the children of our state.

 

Many members of our caucus have already proposed real solutions. Last session, over eighteen pieces of legislation were filed by Members of our caucus to promote gun safety and prevent gun violence in our communities. Chairman Chris Turner sent a letter to Gov. Abbott and encouraged him to include the Democratic authors of these bills in his roundtable discussions.  The Democratic Caucus is ready to act swiftly to better protect all Texans, especially our children.

 

HDC Statement on Santa Fe School Shooting 

During our caucus retreat last week in Houston, we issued a statement via Facebook Live regarding the Santa Fe school shooting. We appreciate all members who have already shared this video on their social pages.You can watch and share our full statement here.

 

HDC Legislation to End Gun Violence

Below is an overview of legislation filed by Democratic members to help address gun violence and promote gun safety. If there is legislation your office filed that you would like to see here, please let us know and we will be happy to list it as we continue to promote and support the efforts of our caucus.
  1. HB 111 by Rep. Joe Moody
    Creating an educational program to improve firearm safety
  2. HB 259 by Rep. Rafael Anchia
    Creating offenses concerning firearm sales at gun shows & charging a fee
  3. HB 291 by Rep. Eric Johnson
    Allows Dallas to opt out of open carry laws
  4. HB 465 by Rep. Rafael Anchia
    Prosecuting offenses involving carrying guns at amusement parks or places associated w/ schools
  5. HB 631 by Rep. Donna Howard
    Creation of a public awareness firearm safety campaign
  6. HB 866 by Rep. Joe Moody
    Creates a lethal violence protective order a court may issue to stop an individual from possessing or purchasing a firearm
  7. HB 1929 by Rep. César Blanco
    Prohibiting the transfer of a firearm to someone included in the FBI terrorist screening database
  8. HB 2034 by Rep. César Blanco
    Requiring a national instant criminal background check in connection with internet firearm sales
  9. HB 2543 by Rep. Poncho Nevárez 
    Relating to the unlawful possession of a firearm by persons who are subject to certain judicial determinations
  10. HB 2583 by Rep. Armando Martinez
    Creating a class A misdemeanor for the reckless discharge of a firearm
  11. HB 2655 by Rep. Poncho Nevárez
    Limit transfer of firearms to individuals with certain adjudicated mental health conditions
  12. HB 2712 by Rep. Tomas Uresti
    $100 buyback program for guns, paid by state
  13. HB 2880 by Rep. Harold Dutton (Effective 9/1/17)
    Penalty if someone threatens to use or exhibit a gun at school or on a school bus
  14. HB 3057 by Rep. Rafael Anchia
    Possessing a gun in a secured area of an airport
  15. HB 3340 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson
    On providing info about gun safety & suicide prevention
  16. HB 3989 by Rep. Eric Johnson
    Prohibiting carrying of handguns at Texas State Fair and other places where amusement rides are available
  17. HB 4037 by Rep. Rafael Anchia
    Stop purchase-and-transfer of firearms from one who can buy legally to one who may use them illegally
  18. HB 4200 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa
    Report those banned from buying firearms who try to purchase them; add additional penalty for individuals who are banned from purchasing firearms who try to buy them

Texas Rep. Helen Giddings Denounces Hate, Calls for Moment of Silence in House Chamber

In the House chamber Monday, Texas Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) called on the membership to stand with her as she denounced hatred, bigotry and terrorism in the wake of Saturday’s deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Members, this past weekend, we witnessed a white supremacist hate group infiltrate the town of Charlottesville, Virginia, carrying torches on Friday night, on Saturday they filled the streets with venom, with bigotry and with violence,” Giddings said, before mentioning the three lives lost Saturday in the protest.

To continue reading this story go to NBC Dallas/Fort Worth.

Texas House votes to extend life of maternal mortality task force

Legislation that would extend the life of a state task force studying Texas’ high maternal morbidity rates was tentatively approved by the Texas House late Sunday night.

Under Senate Bill 17, the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity would continue its work until 2023. The task force, launched by the Legislature in 2013, found that between 2011 and 2012, 189 Texas mothers died less than a year after their pregnancies ended, mostly from heart disease, drug overdoses and high blood pressure.

To continue reading this story go to the Texas Tribune.

To prevent maternal mortality, keep studying and take the Medicaid (Op-ed)

Failure to extend the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity is not an option. Texas’ maternal death rate nearly doubled from 2010 to 2014 and is third-world high.

A proposal to extend the task force until 2023 is the one bill that must pass this special session of the Legislature, other than the so-called sunset bill extending the lives of key state agencies that forced the session in the first place.

To continue reading this story go to the El Paso Times.

Abbott and His Armed Militia

Did Gov. Greg Abbott hire an armed paramilitary group to run security on a recent campaign stop?

That’s what Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, is trying to find out through two open records requests. The stop in question was held on July 15 in McAllen. When he stopped into the border town for lunch, the Rio Grande Guardian reported that the “Texas State Militia and McAllen Police Department were outside of the restaurant observing the protest.”

To continue reading the story go to the Austin Chronicle.