Gov. Greg Abbott asks for legislative recommendations in response to Uvalde shooting

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference at Uvalde High School on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Sergio Flores For The Texas Tribune, Sergio Flores For The Texas Tribune)

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Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday morning called on the Texas Legislature to form special committees to make legislative recommendations in response to the Uvalde school shooting.

In a letter to House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate's presiding officer, Abbott told his fellow Republicans that the state "must reassess the twin issues of school safety and mass violence." He said the committee process should start "immediately" and outlined five topics he would like the committees to take up.

Phelan said the House was already getting down to work, while Patrick named a committee Wednesday evening.

Notably, the topics that Abbott identified include "firearm safety." Abbott last week essentially ruled out gun restrictions as a response to the massacre, in which a gunman killed 19 students and two adults last week at Robb Elementary School. He focused his attention on mental health care and school security in his public comments.

The other topics Abbott charged leadership with making recommendations on were school safety, mental health, social media and police training.

Phelan responded to Abbott's call by saying in a statement that "conversations about the issues outlined by Gov. Abbott are already underway in the Texas House and will continue to be a top priority in the months leading up to the next school year and the legislative session." He added that the House "will get to work immediately."

On Wednesday night, Phelan said on Twitter that families of the victims deserve to have transparency about what happened in the Uvalde shooting and that it would be "absolutely unconscionable to use the 'dead suspect loophole' to thwart the release of information." Phelan said the loophole in state law "allows law enforcement agencies to withhold details about cases that end without a conviction, including when a suspect dies in custody."

Patrick announced a Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, chaired by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville. Patrick said he has asked Nichols to hold a hearing "on June 23 or a date shortly thereafter," allowing members of the Uvalde community to first complete funerals.

The committees are different from a special legislative session, which Democrats — and at least a couple Republicans — have asked for since the shooting. Abbott has not ruled that out.

Abbott's critics quickly argued that the time for committees has passed. They pointed out that the Legislature also formed special committees after mass shootings in 2019, and those discussions did not prevent the Uvalde school shooting from happening.

Abbott's Democratic challenger for reelection, Beto O'Rourke, panned Abbott's push for legislative committees.

"Anyone can call for a committee. Only a governor can call a special session," O'Rourke tweeted. "Do your job."

The 2019 committees on gun violence followed the anti-Hispanic massacre at a Walmart in El Paso. A Democratic state senator from the area, César Blanco, sent Abbott a letter Wednesday saying that he appreciated the call for committees since the Uvalde shooting but noted "we have solutions ready now." He cited nine bills he filed in the first session after the Walmart shooting, including a proposal to extend background checks to cover private gun sales. While Patrick initially showed interest in that idea — even suggesting he would stand up to the National Rifle Association to pass it — it was a short-lived crusade and the legislation never got a Senate committee hearing.

The Texas State Teachers Association called Abbott's announcement Wednesday "very weak."

"The victims’ families and all Texans deserve better than that," the association's president, Ovidia Molina, said in a statement.

Disclosure: Texas State Teachers Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.