AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas schools could train teachers as armed marshals to exchange gunfire with potential attackers under a bill approved by state lawmakers and sent to Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, while a key lawmaker said attempts to allow concealed handgun license holders to carry their weapons into college classrooms is likely dead.
A bipartisan 28-3 Senate vote gave final approval to the marshals bill, which was proposed after the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It had already passed the House over the objection of the Texas State Teachers Association.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, had pushed lawmakers to help school districts provide teachers or other employees with special weapons and tactical response training.
The bill allows school districts and charter schools to place one armed marshal on campus for every 400 students. After 80 hours of training, the marshals could bring a weapon on campus. Their identities would not be subject to public records law.
Marshals working directly with students would have to keep their guns in a lockbox "within immediate reach," according to the measure. Marshals not working with students would be allowed to carry concealed weapons.
Although many larger school districts employ their own police forces, many smaller districts cannot afford to do so. In testimony early in the session, several small rural districts said they needed marshals or armed teachers to protect students because police response might be too slow in a shooting incident.
Teachers groups had complained that school safety should be provided by professional security and not thrust on educators. They were disturbed when law enforcement experts testified that armed teachers could be shot by police responding to an incident.
Efforts to allow license holders to carry guns into college classrooms appeared dead this session after being stalled for weeks. Although the measure has already passed the House, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said Democrats had effectively blocked it in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The guns on campus bill has been a flashpoint for the gun control debate in Texas for years and has been opposed by higher education leaders who fear allowing guns will lead to more campus violence, including suicides.
The Texas House approved a bill that allows the state to drug test unemployment applicants. But Democrats successfully used a parade of stalling tactics to run out the clock on a similar measure mandating such screening for welfare applicants.
Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, sponsored the proposal approved late Tuesday night. It would require applicants to answer a questionnaire to see whether they are at risk of abusing drugs. If there is reasonable suspicion, the Texas Workforce Commission would require a drug test.
Creighton said the proposed law was carefully designed to be constitutional, adding that only first-time applicants working in occupations that require drug tests would undergo screening. Applicants who test positive could ask for a retest or keep their benefits if they enroll in a treatment program within seven days. Otherwise, the person could reapply after 30 days.
"We've had an effort across the nation of over 29 states working on related issues and measures to require a drug screen that could lead to a drug test," Creighton said. "The Texas Workforce Commission would use a nationally accepted screen to determine if a test is needed."