AUSTIN, Texas — After more than a week of calls from lawmakers and advocates to convene a special legislative session, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is now asking legislative leadership to immediately convene special committees in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Uvalde on May 24.
In a letter sent to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan on June 1, the governor requested that both leaders convene special legislative committees to "review what steps previous legislatures have enacted, what resources the State has made available to local school districts and make recommendations to the Legislature and the Executive Branch."
Abbott said the committees' work should make it so that "meaningful action" can be made on school safety, police training, firearm safety, mental health and social media, among other things, to prevent future school shootings.
Shortly after Abbott's announcement, Patrick announced the creation of the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans. Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) will serve as chair, Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will serve as co-vice chairs. The following members were also named to the committee:
- Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)
- Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury)
- Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)
- Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen)
- Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Tyler)
- Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock)
- Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas)
- Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo)
"Chairman Nichols is an engineer by profession, Sen. Creighton is chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Higher Education and Sen. Kolkhorst is chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services," Patrick said. "These three leaders have the experience and knowledge to lead this important committee. The committee members also represent a cross section of school districts and communities of all sizes across the state."
More of Patrick's statement can be read below:
"I have asked Chair Nichols to hold his hearing on June 23 or a date shortly thereafter. I want to give the families and the community of Uvalde time to complete all funeral services before beginning hearings so those who wish to testify may take part. I have asked Chair Nichols to coordinate with the House of Representatives Chair to hold their hearings on the same date, if possible, to accommodate both invited and public witnesses.
"Before creation of this committee, last week, I sent a letter to the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, Mike Morath, to request an extension through the end of the next legislative session for applying for school safety grants, which were set to expire on May 31. There is still nearly $14 million in the fund that schools could still request. The letter can be found here.
"We will also be working with Attorney General Paxton's office to ensure payments from the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, once approved, are expedited.
"All of us working together is the answer. Now is not the time for politics. It is all about doing all we can so that we never see another tragedy like this happen again in Texas."
Texas House Speaker Phelan said on Twitter he will work to end the "dead suspect loophole," which is part of state law that has blocked victims, families of death-in-custody suspects and journalists from information. It could play a role in what we learn about the Uvalde shooting.
"More than anything, the families of the #Uvalde victims need honest answers and transparency. Period," Phelan said on Twitter. "It would be absolutely unconscionable to use the 'dead suspect loophole' to thwart the release of information that is so badly needed and deserved right now."
Abbott also noted that the Texas Rangers and the FBI continue to investigate the Uvalde shooting, as well as law enforcement officials' response to it. The governor said the details of those investigations will be provided to Patrick and Phelan as soon as they are available.
"I look forward to working with you both on this important mission to make Texas safer, and I stand ready to provide any and all support," Abbott wrote.
The Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina released a statement.
"Committees and other groups have studied school safety before, including after the Santa Fe High School shootings in 2018 and the El Paso Walmart shootings in 2019, and schools obviously aren’t safe from mass shooters. This is because the governor and legislators refuse to address the real issue and enact reasonable gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. The governor didn’t even put this issue on the agenda for the new committees," part of the Molina's statement said.
Molina said educators are doing everything they can to keep student's safe.
"The problem isn't just an education problem, and if he wants to put the blame on we should have done more as educators, shame on you, Governor," Molina said. "But the reality is that the community isn't safe going to the grocery store, going to the movies, going to church, and so he needs to take action."
Nineteen children and two teachers died in the attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on May 24, the deadliest U.S. school shooting in nearly a decade and the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.
State officials have said 19 police officers waited outside the classroom where the gunman had opened fire, despite repeated pleas from children calling 911 for help.
On May 31, Abbott declared a state of disaster for the City of Uvalde.
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