AUSTIN, Texas — Families whose loved ones were killed in the Robb Elementary School shooting traveled to Austin this week to advocate for legislation alongside State Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio).
Three things to know in Texas politics
1. Texas oil and gas industry pays record amount of taxes
Last year was a record-breaking year for the Texas oil and gas industry. The Texas Oil and Gas Association released its annual report on Monday showing the industry paid $24.7 billion in taxes and state royalties in fiscal year 2022. The previous record was $16 billion dollars in 2019.
Leaders of the organization say it's unlikely they will be able to replicate these numbers but added that there are things lawmakers can do to help the industry be successful including ensuring the electric grid is reliable and reducing property taxes.
2. Bill filed to give Texas teachers $15,000 raise
Austin-area State Rep. James Talarico (D) filed a bill this week to give all Texas classroom teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses a $15,000 raise. House Bill 1548 would give other school professionals a 25% raise. The raises would be paid for with the State's some $32-billion budget surplus.
Currently, Texas teacher salaries are roughly $7,500 less than the national average.
3. Texas lawmakers denounce bill to limit who can buy property
Texas Democratic lawmakers stood together on Wednesday to denounce Senate Bill 147. The proposal from Republican State Sen. Lois Kohlkorst of Brenham would ban green card holders, asylum seekers and businesses from China, Iran, North Koran and Russia from buying property in Texas.
In a statement, Kohlkorst said the legislation is intended to address national security concerns. But opponents say denying a select group of people the opportunity to buy land because of where they were born is racist.
Opponents plan to host a rally condemning the bill at the Capitol on Sunday at 1 p.m.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez discusses Uvalde-related bills
Tuesday marked eight months since 19 children and their two teachers were brutally murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Some of the victims' families traveled to the Capitol on that grim anniversary to bring attention to a slate of bills by their state senator, Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio).
Ashley Goudeau: You have filed a number of bills in response to the Robb Elementary School shooting. This week, you talked about four of them really pushing for accountability. Let's start with Senate Bill 575 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 12, which would end qualified immunity for police officers. Talk to us about this.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez: "Yeah, I mean, I think that it's time. Look, we all respect cops. We all respect our police departments. But at the end of the day, it's probably the one profession you can't sue in a very effective way. And when there is negligence, you ought to be able to sue, to sue a law enforcement agency. We're seeing, you know, things across the United States like what we saw in Memphis. So whether it's, you know, violence from a cop to a civilian or whether it's the kind of negligence we saw in Uvalde where for 77 minutes not one of these cops from any state agency did anything to help those children that were just feet away, we've got to be able to allow people access to justice, access to the courthouse, and let the courts handle whether someone is entitled to a protection or not. We can't just say, 'Look, you can sue the lawyer, you can sue the doctor, you can sue your teacher, but you can't sue a cop.' Doesn't make sense."
Goudeau: You know, this, though, is not the first time lawmakers have tried to pass legislation similar to this. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus tried to end immunity for officers back in 2021 in response to the death of George Floyd. It failed then. Do you think there's more of an appetite for this type of legislation this session?
Gutierrez: "Well, you know, I don't know. I mean, what I what I know, what I've asked for is also another concurrent resolution to try to get permission for these families to sue the State in this one instance, and hopefully we can pass that. We do that on occasion from time to time, which is we give permission and waive sovereign immunity. Again, I think that everybody out there listening respects law enforcement, but under no certain circumstances should we respect the kind of law enforcement that leaves kids to die for 77 minutes, should we respect law enforcement that intentionally beats on people. It's not right. You know, we see officer-involved shootings with people that are unarmed across this country. You see incidences like George Floyd. We have to have accountability in every profession. How is it that I as a lawyer can sue just about every every profession except for the police? Just doesn't make sense."
Goudeau: You're also proposing a victim's compensation fund. Talk to us about that legislation.
Gutierrez: "During the summer, we filed a victim's compensation fund that was more based on the negligence that we had in this community. So if my Republican colleagues don't want to talk about that negligence through any kind of legislation, we offered more of a general victim's compensation fund for anybody that would have lost their child in a school. It's retroactive to five years to cover the Santa Fe shooting as well. At the end of the day, if people entrust the State of Texas with their children for eight hours a day, if something happens to your child at school and your child doesn't come home, like these poor families in Uvalde, imagine that. They send off their children to school and they never came home again. Then the State of Texas should compensate you. The State of Texas should compensate you if they're injured, if they're physically injured, if they're mentally injured and certainly if they pass on, and that's what this bill seeks to do."
Goudeau: You filed some other legislation and say you will file more, a total of 20 bills in response to the shooting. I think most notably are some of your proposals on guns, you know, raising the age, banning some types of firearms. Talk to us about some of those bills.
Gutierrez: "Yes. So we've raised the age limit, or at least we're asking to raise the age limit to 21. Most Republican voters agree with us on that one. Under no circumstances should you be able to buy a long gun, an AR-15 like these people were able to do, like this kid was able to do. And so we're asking for that. We're asking for extreme risk protective orders. We're asking for background checks. You know, the things that make most sense that people on both sides of the aisle want, everybody but the Republican caucus in the Senate and the House. And so we need to address this. We need to have constituents call them and say, 'Let's have common sense gun solutions.' Look, I'm a gun owner. I get it. I represent South and West Texas. My constituents want common sense solutions. They don't want their guns taken away. I understand that. We're just asking for common sense gun safety. Over the course of the next several weeks, we will be filing 21 bills by the time we're done that are in reference to Uvalde."
Goudeau: Have you been able to talk with the lieutenant governor about some of these gun specific proposals?
Gutierrez: "The lieutenant governor and I have had discussions in the past. We continue to have discussions. We, you know, he's a pragmatic person. I think that he's going to look at what's on the ground. I think that he's going to look at the polling. I think he's going to look at what Republican constituents can live with and hopefully do something right for the people of Texas. It's my expectation, or at least my hope, that the Texas Senate can put forth something that's responsible, something that's right and just, not just for these families in Uvalde but for Texans all over Texas so that they understand that their kids are safer in our schools. We've got a lot of work to do, and we don't have that much time to do it in. So the next several weeks are important and we will continue to have dialog with the lieutenant governor and others."
Goudeau: We talked about this bill or these bills, excuse me, earlier this week. You were surrounded by parents and loved ones of some of the victims. You invited them to talk about all that they've lost and the need for action that they see. I want you to talk to us about what it means personally to you to be able to give them a voice, give them this platform at the Capitol.
Gutierrez: "You know, these people are my friends and they've become my friends in all of this. I finally signed the non-disclosure agreement with the Department of Public Safety, and I've seen hours and hours of body cam footage. And I've seen children with their faces just shot off. I've seen bodies of children just piled on top of one another. I've seen a teacher draped over several children trying to protect them, and her and all those little babies who are dead. I've seen things that I had never wanted to see in my life, and I can't stop seeing them every night. I don't want this to happen to anybody in Texas again. And so those families are just incredible people and they're incredibly strong and they don't want this to happen to anybody. They certainly don't want to have their children's deaths be in vain. And so they're going to advocate. They're going to keep advocating it. They're doing it on their own. I love them for it, and I pray for them every night."
The bills Gutierrez discussed in his news conference are Senate Bill 575 to end qualified immunity for peace officers, Senate Concurrent Resolution 12 to allow families of the Robb Elementary School shooting to sue the State, SCR 11 to urge congress to allow gun manufacturers and distributors to be held liable and SB 574 to create a permanent victim compensation fund.
The senator said he plans to hold a news conference talking about another bill next week.