AUSTIN — The Texas House Committee on Appropriations met Oct. 9 to hear ideas on improving school safety in the aftermath of the May 18 Santa Fe High School shooting that left eight students and two teachers dead and 13 injured.

“It’s an unbelievable reality that shootings in schools are occurring more frequently,” said state Rep. John Zerwas, chairman of the powerful, state budget-writing committee. “As a Legislature we must do what we can to ensure our schools are places of learning and not places of fear.” 

During the four-hour hearing, the committee heard invited testimony from representatives of the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University, the Texas Health ad Human Services Commission, the Texas Education Agency, the Office of the Governor, the Legislative Budget Board and others. Santa Fe Independent School District Superintendent Leigh Wall testified that federal and state grant funds are being spent in his district on items such as:

— Architectural redesigns to accommodate metal detector units;

— Panic buttons and automatic locks;

— Mental health services;

— Staff training; and 

— Adding security personnel.

Safety grants are awarded

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Oct. 8 announced the Texas Education Agency has received two federal grants under the Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act 

Both grants, worth $1 million each, will be used to support mental health training for Texas school districts, as well as establish effective campus threat assessment practices across the state.

“Texas remains committed to providing a safe learning environment for every student on every public school campus across our state,” Morath said. “By focusing on these two key areas of mental health and preventative measures, we strengthen our state’s ongoing commitment to school safety.” 

Anti-drug funds to come

Drug deaths in Texas have been increasing and nearly half of them are attributed to opioid overdose, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

On Oct. 9, the DSHS announced the receipt of a $2.66 million grant to help fund the expansion of the state’s public health response to opioids over the next year. 

The grant comes from the Atlanta, Georgia-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The funding will help local health departments and health care providers prevent overdose deaths, enhance the available data on opioid use in Texas and expand the prescriber network for medication-assisted treatment.

The funds will improve the state health department’s ability to track opioid-related illnesses and other conditions being seen in emergency rooms around Texas. It will also provide researchers and the public with more information on opioid use and its consequences via the DSHS Texas Health Data website, allowing access to more data more quickly down to county and ZIP code levels.

“Having more information on where opioids are being used and their effects on communities will let state agencies and our partners in cities and counties focus their efforts where the needs are most pressing,” said DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt. “Using data to better understand and respond to the opioid crisis will ensure that resources provide the most benefit for the people of Texas.”

Additional funds will be used to train public health personnel at the community level on when and how to properly administer naloxone, a drug that may be administered to prevent someone who has overdosed on an opioid from dying.

Fraud unit makes arrests

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Oct. 12 announced that four individuals have been indicted on 30 felony counts of voter fraud and arrested following an investigation by his office's Election Fraud Unit. 

The defendants, Paxton alleged, were paid to target elderly voters in certain north-side Fort Worth precincts in a scheme to generate a large number of mail ballots and then harvest those ballots for specific candidates in 2016.

“Ballots by mail are intended to make it easier for Texas seniors to vote. The unfortunate downside is their extreme vulnerability to fraud,” Paxton said. “My office is committed to ensuring that paid vote harvesters who fraudulently generate mail ballots, stealing votes from seniors, are held accountable for their despicable actions and for the damage they inflict on the electoral process.”

Tax revenue will be sent

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Oct. 10 announced he would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts some $736 million in local sales tax allocations for the month of October. 

The amount, Hegar said, is 11.4 percent more than his office reported in October 2017. Allocations are based on sales made in August by businesses that report tax monthly, he added.