Every two years the Texas Legislature comes together to do the business of the State of Texas. The Legislature started its 2013 Session on Tuesday, January 8, 2013. There are 43 new members in the 150 member House which means that the Legislature will be fairly inexperienced as they tackle critical issues, like fiscal policy, education spending, health care programs for the poor, water conservation, gun rights, and cancer research.
During the 140 day session of the 83rd Legislature, this blog will attempt to highlight issues and proposed legislation affecting emergency management. Many topics to be discussed will affect how emergency management is conducted by the State of Texas; and by cities and counties within the State.
With the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, issues of gun control will be a hot button topic for the Legislature this year. Ben Kamisar, a reporter for the Austin-American Statesman, published an article on Thursday, January 17, 2013, discussing a new gun bill filed by State Senator Brian Birdwell. Kamisar reports that:
The issue of allowing concealed handgun permit holders to carry weapons at colleges and universities was reignited Thursday, when state Sen. Brian Birdwell filed a bill similar to one that narrowly missed becoming law in 2011.
Birdwell’s bill, like the one filed in 2011, calls for concealed carry to be allowed on public university property while giving private colleges and universities the option of prohibiting it. A new section strengthens language affirming that carrying a concealed handgun isn’t permitted on the grounds of hospitals, preschools and elementary and secondary schools on college grounds.
“For me, this isn’t just about the firearm,” Birdwell, R-Granbury, said in a statement. “It’s about trusting citizens with their God-given, constitutional rights.”
The hot-button issue returned to center-stage after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings that killed 26 people. Gun-rights advocates hope that tragedy will lead lawmakers and the public to view allowing guns at colleges as making campuses safer.
“There’s a more compelling reason than ever for adults with a concealed handgun license attending a college or university (to) be allowed to have that personal protection option,” said Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association. “It brings forward the realization that a gun-free zone is not a violence-free location.”
John Woods, the lead organizer for Students for Gun-Free Schools in Texas and a survivor of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, still isn’t persuaded.
“I talk to a lot of people that were there (Virginia Tech), and not a single one of the survivors think this would help in any way,” said Woods, who lost his girlfriend in the 2007 shooting.
Woods said he felt frustrated that the bill was reintroduced in spite of opposition from the university community. Gary Susswein, University of Texas at Austin’s Director of Media Relations, said the university’s position remains the same: Guns aren’t appropriate on campus and won’t enhance security.
However, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is active on the Austin campus.
Currently, handgun permits don’t allow concealed handguns in university buildings or classrooms. In 2011, a bill to change that was filed with strong support from both chambers of the Legislature; 15 of the 31 senators and more than 80 of the 150 House members signed on as co-authors.
However, the bill was blocked from debate in the Senate after two senators who supported campus-carry in 2009, Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, withdrew their support. Its sponsor ultimately got it through the Senate by attaching it as an amendment to a higher education bill. But the House stripped the amendment from the bill, citing a rules violation.