[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to explain the formation of the special committee.]
EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — A new Texas Senate committee that was formed to examine state safety following the school massacre in Uvalde, will hold its first meeting the week of June 21 in Austin, a state senator told Border Report on Tuesday.
Texas Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, is one of 11 members appointed to the new Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans. He is one of only two members who represent the Texas border to serve on this special detail, which he said will start in two weeks after all of the funerals have been held in Uvalde.
During an interview with Border Report on Tuesday in his district office in Edinburg, Texas, Hinojosa laid out the importance of better safety for public schools in Texas in light of the recent killings of 19 school children and two teachers by a teenager, who law enforcement said had multiple assault rifles, on May 24 inside Robb Elementary School in the border town of Uvalde.
“It’s become a constant issue not only here in the state of Texas, but nationwide, and we need to focus on what else can we do to make our public schools secure. What else can we do to minimize and mitigate mass shootings? So those are the issues we’ll be looking at,” Hinojosa said. “The starting point is what happened in Uvalde — another mass shooting, another massacre — and this time of 19 innocent children and two innocent teachers. And so we are now looking at what happened? Why it happened and what could we have done to try to prevent it?”
The committee will take testimony from the general public, but it’s uncertain whether it will meet outside of Austin or travel to Uvalde and other affected areas.
Gov. Greg Abbott asked lawmakers to form the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans after the Uvalde shootings, which were the deadliest U.S. school shootings in over a decade.
“We as a State must reassess the twin issues of school safety and mass violence. As leaders, we must come together at this time to provide solutions to protect all Texans,” Abbott wrote in a June 1 letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, requesting the assembly of members for this task.
Patrick assigned the committee, which includes State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Democrat from the South Texas border city of Laredo. The committee’s chairman is Republican Robert Nichols, of Jacksonville, in East Texas.
But Abbott dictated that the new committee would study the following, according to letter:
- School safety
- Mental health
- Social media
- Police training
- Firearm safety
Hinojosa told Border Report that he believes the focus of lawmakers assigned to the committee should be gun safety.
Hinojosa, a Marine combat veteran who is licensed to carry, said he believes in gun rights but add that there must be better safeguards to protect public safety in the Lone Star State.
He advocates the following:
- Increase to 21 from 18 the age an assault weapon can be purchased.
- Criminal background checks for all weapon purchases.
- A “cooling off period” of 10 days after applying for an assault weapon and receiving it.
- Red-flag laws that allow law enforcement, such as the courts, to prevent a person “who is in danger to their self or to the general public” from taking possession of guns “with proper due process,” he said.
“I’m a gun owner. The majority of gun owners are responsible people,” Hinojosa said. “We know and protect and support 2nd Amendment rights but that doesn’t mean we should not be responsible and take a common-sense approach when problems come up as we have seen again and again and again with all the mass shootings taking place in the United States.”
Those recommendations are in line with gun control recommendations that Dallas County Commissioners on Tuesday were considering implementing. Commissioners also are pushing for the governor to call a Special Session to take up gun reforms.
Hinojosa says he would support a Special Session on gun control and hopes Abbott will call one.
On Tuesday, Abbott sent a letter directing the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Education Agency and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to expand and promote the iWatchTexas reporting system. This online platform allows residents to report suspicious or concerning behavior.
“That’s pretty common sense. You see someone who looks dangerous, report it,” Hinojosa said.
He said he hopes that Texas lawmakers recognize that more money needs to be spent on mental health issues, and they help ensure schools comply with safety regulations.
Hinojosa is vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and he says the state spends over $7 billion annually on mental health services across several different state agencies. During the 2021 Legislature, an additional $120 million was appropriated to create a mental health consortium to help identify and assist youth who are struggling and need help.
But he said it’s not enough. And he says local districts need to take advantage of ample federal funds that are available.
He also says there are not in place proper enforcement mechanisms to hold schools accountable to ensure they are complying with all safety requirements.
“It’s a wake-up call for many schools who have not taken this seriously,” Hinojosa said. “But part of the fault is the state’s … it’s our fault because we didn’t fund sufficient money, sufficient funds to allow schools to comply with the requirements.”
“The most important responsibility of government is to keep its citizens safe. Sadly, the recent mass shootings have shown that we have work to do to meet this responsibility, and I am ready to get to work to find real solutions that make our schools, churches, grocery stores, and neighborhoods safe for everyone,” he said.