85th Legislative Session School Safety Law Updates

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This article briefly outlines the legislative process in Texas and presents 11 bills that were passed, and signed into law, during the 85th legislative session that are related to school safety, security, and health.

Overview of the Texas Legislative Process

Every two years, the Texas Legislature meets starting on the second Tuesday in January of each odd-numbered year to discuss and propose new bills. This year, Texas Lawmakers convened for the 85th legislative session where hundreds of bills were proposed and passed during the 140 calendar-day session. Both the House and the Senate can propose bills to be considered during the legislative session. The lieutenant governor, elected statewide separately from the governor, presides over the Senate, while the Speaker of the House is elected from that body by its members. If a bill passes their respective committee within the House or the Senate, the bills are passed to the other side for consideration. A bill must pass both the House and the Senate to be viewed by the governor.

School safety topics that saw changes in this legislative session include bullying, emergency management and safety and security audits, school-based law enforcement, social and cultural environment, and substance use.

If there are bills that did not pass before the session ends, a special session may be called. Only the governor may call the Legislature into special sessions after regular sessions has ended, unlike other states where the legislature may call itself into a special session. The governor can call as many special sessions that s/he desires up until the beginning of the next Legislative regular session. Each special session is limited to 30 days and lawmakers may only consider issues that have been designated by the governor in his proclamation convening the special session. The governor may add additional bills to be discussed while the special session is active.

School Safety Law Updates from the 85th Legislative Session

This year, in the 85th legislative session, we identified 11 bills that passed related to school safety, security, and emergency management that schools should be aware of. These bills, as well as other important school safety legislation, are categorized by topic in the TxSSC’s School Safety Law Toolkit. School safety topics that saw changes in this legislative session include bullying, emergency management and safety and security audits, school-based law enforcement, social and cultural environment, and substance use.

Substance Use

During the 85th legislative session, SB 489 passed, amending Education Code section 28.004(c) to include instruction to prevent the use of e-cigarettes. The bill calls for appropriate policies, procedures, strategies, and curriculum appropriate for specific grade levels in conjunction with other forms of health education.

Bullying

Regarding bullying, SB 179, also known as “David’s Law”, was passed which amended the Education Code provisions regarding bullying to better define and encompass cyberbullying. “David’s Law” provides anonymous reporting for students, which includes cyberbullying off campus and after school hours, and modifies the parental/guardian notification procedure. This law also provides flexibility in the disciplinary placement or the expulsion of students engaged in certain types of very serious bullying. Further, the “David’s Law” changes Section 42.07 of the Penal Code, also known as the Harassment Statute, to more fully and clearly include modern Internet-based communication tools and methods that perpetrators use to cyberbully.

Regarding bullying, SB 179, also known as “David’s Law”, was passed which amended the Education Code provisions regarding bullying to better define and encompass cyberbullying.

Social & Cultural Environment

The first of three bills that passed during this legislative session related to school culture and environment, SB 7, relates to improper relationships between educators and students, creating a criminal offense and expanding the applicability of an existing offense. The bill requires principals and superintendents to report teachers for having inappropriate relationships with students or face a state jail felony or fine up to $10,000. The law is applicable to K-12 schools, as is bill HB 674 which restricts the suspensions of students younger than six years of age from public schools.

The second bill, HB 674, is also known as the “positive behavior program”. This bill indicates that each school district and open-enrollment charter school may develop and implement a plan that provides a disciplinary alternative for students enrolled in a grade level below grade three. Exceptions to the bill include incidents where students bring weapons, are in possession of drugs, or have violent offenses occur on campus. The third bill (HB 355) that relates to school social and cultural environments is applicable to university level students. HB 355 prohibits most registered sex offenders from living in a dorm on private or public college campuses. This law only applies to those registered under Subchapter B, Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure. There exceptions to the law which permits residence on campus for such individuals, if the person is assigned a numeric risk level of one based on an assessment conducted using sex offender screening tools, and the institution approves the person to reside on campus.

SB 7, relates to improper relationships between educators and students, creating a criminal offense and expanding the applicability of an existing offense.

School-Based Law Enforcement

There were three bills passed during the 85th legislature to improve school-based law enforcement. The first of which relates to the criminal punishment of the threatened exhibition or use of a firearm in or on school property or school bus. The bill, HB 2880, amended section 37.125 of the Education Code so a person commits an offense if a weapon is brandished on school property. School property includes parking lots, parking garages, or any other parking area that is owned by a private or public school. School property also includes a school bus that is used to transport students to or from school-sponsored activities of a private or public school.

HB 2880, amended section 37.125 of the Education Code so a person commits an offense if a weapon is brandished on school property.

The second bill passed, HB 867, regards school marshals for private schools. The bill amended Sections 37.0811 (a) and (d) of the Education Code pertaining to allotting school marshals to private schools. The law regarding marshals for private schools is the same as the law establishing procedures and protocols for school marshals in public schools. The only amendment that affects public schools, as well as private schools, is the amount of students per school marshal delegated. The amount decreased from 400 to 200 students in average daily attendance for every one-school marshal on campus.

Lastly, the third school-based law enforcement bill that passed, SB 30, incorporates inclusion or instruction regarding interaction with peace officers, certain public school students and in-driver education courses, and civilian interaction training for peace officers. The curriculum will teach the responsibility and duties of law enforcement, a person's rights during an interaction, proper behavior for each party involved, and how to file a complaint against an officer. Driver education and safety courses will also include instruction on what to do during traffic stops.

Emergency Management

There were three newly passed bills regarding emergency management. The first bill is SB 195, which allows a district or county to apply for an additional amount of up to 10 percent of regular transportation allotment. The allotment would be used towards the transportation of children living within two miles of the school they attend who would be subject to hazardous traffic conditions, or a high risk of violence if they walked to school. Increasing student safety is at the core of bills within the safety and security category. School bus safety is also at the core of SB 693, which states that any “bus” that is operated by or contracted by a school district for the use of transportation of school children shall be equipped with a three-point seat belt for each passenger, including the operator. Similarly, student safety is at the core of emergency management systems regulations and laws. The final successfully passed bill in this category is HB 332, which indicated that a district shall include in its multi-hazard emergency operations plan, a policy for school district property selected for use as a polling place under Section 43.031, Election Code. The board of trustees may consult with the local law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the school district property selected as the polling place regarding reasonable security accommodations to be made to the property.

HB 332, which indicated that a district shall include in its multi-hazard emergency operations plan, a policy for school district property selected for use as a polling place under Section 43.031, Election Code.

For a more detailed look at bills that passed during the 85th legislative session, and other important school safety legislation, please visit the Texas School Safety Center resource in the link below.
School Safety Law Toolkit