School safety one of top items on Texas Legislature agenda

As the new legislative session begins at the Texas Capitol, school safety is one of the top items on the agenda. Among the proposals is a bipartisan bill to put "panic buttons" in every classroom in Texas. 

"We need better technology because those first three minutes of response mean everything," said Republican State Sen. Brandon Creighton, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. 

Last year’s deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde highlighted a lack of communication that likely cost lives. 

"Children as young as eight years old were trying to use their own personal cell phones to tell law enforcement that they were still alive," said Democratic State Rep. Shawn Thierry of Houston. 

That’s why Thierry is re-introducing the Panic Button Bill, along with co-sponsor Creighton, after it fell short last session. 

"The bill provides panic button technology for teachers and administrators and those who manage the doors at school to be able to communicate directly with first responders on an immediate active shooter situation," said Creighton.

"This technology actually has GPS features where it can track the movement of what’s going on," said Thierry.

The bill is modeled after Alyssa’s Law in Florida, following the Parkland massacre in 2018. 

"As a mom of a 10-year-old child, a daughter in public school, I understand the fear that parents feel every day. When we drop off our children, we don’t even know if they’re going to return home to us," said Thierry. 

Unlike other school safety proposals which have been more divisive, sponsors of this say they see no reason why members of both parties shouldn’t be able to get behind it.

"There’s no partisanship in keeping our kids safe," said Creighton. 

"I feel that this bill is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is a life-saving issue," said Thierry.

If it passes, the bill would mandate panic buttons in some form in classrooms across 8,000 Texas campuses. 

"They can use lanyards. On cell phones, something that they can push immediately," said Thierry.

Money would come from a new $20 million grant, as well as previously-approved state funding for school safety. 

"All of our 6,000,000 kids in their education environment will be able to rest easier after this session," said Creighton.

"I’m optimistic this session, because so many members are now understanding, and the public understands that we cannot wait," said Thierry.

The bill is still in its early stages, but Thierry says she hopes to see a committee hearing on it by late February. If it passes, schools would have to have panic buttons ready to go by the fall of 2024.