PATRICK, WEST UNVEIL PLAN TO PROTECT POLICE
(AUSTIN) — Police officers at all level of government would be given access to new bulletproof vests under a plan unveiled by lawmakers Wednesday. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Dallas Senator Royce West said that the tragic shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers by an assailant armed with a high-powered rifle in July of last year left them looking for ways to better protect law enforcement in Texas. "Several of the officers had a vest on, but they were still shot through it," said Patrick. His plan would put $25 million in the budget to pay for vests capable of stopping high-caliber bullets like the ones used in the Dallas attack.
Dallas Senator Royce West was downtown the day of the shooting that killed five Dallas police officers, some of whom were wearing standard issue body armor.
West, who was in downtown Dallas on the day of the shooting, said this issue transcends party lines. "Let it be real clear, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, we support law enforcement," he said. "We don't want to have spouses worry about whether or not their loved ones are going to come home." West will carry the measure, SB 12, in the Senate and said it will include grants for the purchase of high-caliber resistant vests, and that the program will be administered on a local level.
There are between fifty and sixty thousand police officers at all levels of government in the state of Texas, said Patrick, and the vests they are considering weigh about 40 pounds. They are designed to fit over an officer's daily gear and would be used in the event of an emergency like what happened in Dallas. Dallas Police Association Vice President Frederick Frazier told reporters that the weaponry available on the streets today present a much greater threat to police than before. "These rifles, they go through us like butter, even with the vests that we're wearing at the moment," he said. "Obviously we need better equipment."
Also Thursday, Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman and Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger announced he is seeking to make a program to help kids graduate high school permanent. Seliger passed SB 149 last session, which addressed the issue of students who have passed all high school coursework but can't graduate because they failed one or two end of course exams, known as STAAR tests. Seliger said often these kids have language issues, test anxiety or learning disabilities that mean they perform poorly on standardized tests when their work is satisfactory in all other areas. "Even though assessment systems are important, there is nothing magical about the STAAR exam," said Seliger. "The folks at NASA never took a TAKS or STAAR test, and yet we muddled our way to the moon."
SB 149 allowed for the creation of Individual Graduation Committees, made up by a particular student's teachers, administrators, parents or guardians. These committees look at the whole of a student's scholastic achievement, including GPA, extracurricular activities, and other factors that aren't reflected in standardized test scores. Provided the student has passed all the required classes, the IGC can recommend the student be allowed to graduate.
Seliger said the measure was a great success, and helped thousands of students who would otherwise be stuck in high school move on to higher education, the military or the work force. His bill from last session, however, expires in September of 2017. He has filed a new bill, SB 463 , to make the program permanent.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, January 17 at 11 a.m.