Gov. Greg Abbott issued eight executive orders Thursday in response to last month’s mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa.
“Texas must achieve several objectives to better protect our communities and our residents from mass shootings,” Abbott said in a prepared statement. “I will continue to work expeditiously with the Legislature on laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, while safeguarding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans.”
The orders focus largely on strengthening law enforcement’s ability to respond to and prevent future shootings, mainly through improving reporting channels and closing “information gaps” when members of the public or law enforcement agencies worry that a person might be a threat to commit violence. But, Abbott’s office added in a news release, “legislative solutions are still needed.”
The governor also plans to release a report of recommendations next week from meetings of the Texas Safety Commission, which Abbott formed after the El Paso shooting.
The actions by Abbott come as state lawmakers grapple with how to respond to last month’s tragedies in El Paso, Odessa and Midland. At the beginning of August, a gunman targeting Hispanics in an El Paso Walmart fatally shot 22 people and left more than two dozen injured. Then, over Labor Day weekend, a gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others during a shooting spree in Odessa and Midland.
In the wake of the mass shootings, GOP leaders have assembled task forces and formed select legislative committees to discuss next steps for preventing future massacres. Democrats, meanwhile, have urged Abbott to call a special legislative session to address gun violence.
One of Abbott’s executive orders directs the Texas Department of Public Safety to “develop clear guidance, based on the appropriate legal standard, for when and how Texas law enforcement agencies should submit Suspicious Activity Reports.” Another order directs the department to work with “local law enforcement, mental health professionals, school districts, and others to create multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each of its regions.”
In both mass shootings, law enforcement had been aware of the gunmen prior to their rampages. Weeks before the El Paso shooter opened fire, his mom had called police to express concerns about her son owning a gun, according to news reports. And the shooter in West Texas had reportedly called both police and the FBI before the shooting.
Abbott’s eight executive orders:
n “Within thirty days of this order, the Texas Department of Public Safety shall develop standardized intake questions that can be used by all Texas law enforcement agencies to better identify whether a person calling the agency has information that should be reported to the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network.”
n “Within thirty days of this order, the Department of Public Safety shall develop clear guidance, based on the appropriate legal standard, for when and how Texas law enforcement agencies should submit Suspicious Activity Reports.”
n “Within sixty days of this order, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement shall make training available to educate all law enforcement officers regarding the standards that will be developed pursuant to Order No. 1 and Order No. 2.”
n “The Department of Public Safety shall create and conduct an initiative to raise public awareness and understanding of how Suspicious Activity Reports are used by law enforcement agencies to identify potential mass shooters or terroristic threats, so that the general public and friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and classmates will be more likely to report information about potential gunmen.”
n “The Department of Public Safety shall work with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on ways to better inform schools, students, staff, and families about the importance of Suspicious Activity Reports and how to initiate that process.”
n “The Department of Public Safety shall work with local law enforcement, mental health professionals, school districts, and others to create multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each of its regions, and when appropriate shall coordinate with federal partners.”
n “The Department of Public Safety, as well as the Office of the Governor, shall use all available resources to increase staff at all fusion centers in Texas for the purpose of better collecting and responding to Suspicious Activity Reports, and better monitoring and analyzing social media and other online forums, for potential threats.”
n “Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, all future grant awards from the Office of the Governor to counties shall require a commitment that the county will report at least 90 percent of convictions within seven business days to the Criminal Justice Information System at the Department of Public Safety. By Jan. 1, 2021, such reporting must take place within five business days.”
This article was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
In a classroom at the University of Texas at Tyler, Justin Major, an intelligence analyst for the FBI, made it clear that criminal investigation is not the quick fix depicted on television shows.
“You don’t resolve crimes in one hour,” he said. “The legal process takes a long time.”
During a presentation at the university’s Career Success Conference on Thursday, the information analyst provided insight into what it is like to work in the FBI.
He said he studies data to help solve crimes that can include drug trafficking and health care fraud and has assessed the threat to U.S. soldiers abroad of hidden explosive devices.
“The satisfaction comes when you see wrongs righted,” he said. “You want to see people being taken care of.”
The FBI looks for applicants who have a college degree and experience in law enforcement, Major said.
Having other skills, such as mastery of a foreign language or cybersecurity expertise, makes job candidates more desirable, he added.
Matalin Miller, who is in the clinical psychology master’s program at the university, was one of the students who attended Major’s session.
She is interested in working for the FBI one day.
“I wanted to find out how much of it (FBI work on television) is not really real,” she said.
Miller said she appreciated the opportunity to hear from an FBI agent.
“He made it seem more accessible,” she said of a career in the agency.
Major was one of about 200 speakers representing many professions who took part in the Career Success Conference. About 6,000 students were expected to attend at least one of the sessions, according to information from the university.
This is the second year UT Tyler has held the conference.
“In our campus initiatives, student success is one of our primary drivers,” UT Tyler President Michael Tidwell said.
Speakers volunteered their time to “tell our students what it takes to be successful,” he said.
The speakers and their advice can help move students from college into careers, he said.
“Our typical student comes from a working-class home and it means a lot to them to be able to talk shop with these successful professionals,” Tidwell said.
Advice from some speakers who took part in the inaugural Career Success Conference were assembled into “A Patriot’s Guide to Success: Words of Wisdom From East Texas Leaders.”
Some students who came to listen to the speakers had a copy of the book.
“One of the best ways to ensure success is to seek wise counsel and guidance. ... We all benefit from the wisdom of others,” Tidwell noted in the book’s introduction.
The Career Success Conference will continue next year as an annual event at the university, Tidwell said.
An East Texas rancher and businessman who considers himself a conservative Democrat announced Thursday he would challenge U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert in 2020.
Hank Gilbert, 59, of Tyler, is a former high school agriculture teacher and longtime businessman who runs a carpet cleaning and water restoration company in Whitehouse. He ran for Texas agriculture commissioner in 2006 and 2010.
Gilbert said he has been disappointed in Gohmert’s service for years, and the last straw came during the congressional hearings with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who testified about an investigation into alleged ties between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Gilbert said Gohmert did not show Mueller, a veteran of the Vietnam War, enough respect for his service. He said the situation bothered him because his brother served in the same war and was not shown enough respect when he returned.
“He came unleashed,” Gilbert said of Gohmert during the hearing. “Pictures that were shown after the fact, he looked like a bulldog. Just, teeth showing, red face, had no respect for the man whatsoever. And the man was a Republican. And he attacked him the way he did.
“That does not represent the values of the people in this district,” Gilbert said. “I don’t know anybody in this district who would have done that. So we’re going to win it with the will of the people.”
Gohmert also penned an extensive opinion piece about his disagreement with Mueller and the Russia investigation. He spoke about the piece and his views at a meeting of Grassroots America-We the People Political Action Committee in April.
Gilbert said he considers himself a conservative Democrat, in the model of the Democratic Party prior to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 signing of the Voting Rights Act, after which the South started its turn to Republican Party dominance.
“When I was growing up … everybody in the South was what you call a conservative Democrat, fiscally conservative, morally conservative, yet compassionate people. A lot of them changed over. I never changed. I’m still a fiscal conservative. I’m still a moral conservative.
“But I’m a Democrat because I believe more along the lines that government should be of the people, by the people, and help the people, rather than more to help the richer among us or the better off among us or the corporations, which is where I think the other party has gone,” he said.
Gilbert announced his campaign at a Tyler gathering place for the International Electric Union-Communication Workers of America 86782 labor union, across from Trane/Ingersoll Rand.
He said his priorities are the economy, education and health care. He is proposing having the government pay for two years of junior college, technical school or a trade-type program.
For people pursuing professions through a four-year degree, he is proposing paying for the first two years. He wants to provide them with zero-interest loans for the remaining two years, and let them start paying off the debt three years after graduation, provided they do a year of public service immediately after graduation.
“I’m not an accountant, but I can tell you that’s not a giveaway,” Gilbert said. “That’s an investment. Because if you stop and think about it, those people are going to come out getting those high-powered jobs.
“What they will pay in taxes in the first 10 years will more than pay for the education we provided for them, and they’ll be productive, taxpaying citizens for the rest of their life,” he said. “That’s an investment in our future.”
Gohmert, 66, was first elected to represent Texas Congressional District 1 in 2004, and has handily won reelection seven times since then. In four elections, his Democratic opponent was Shirley McKellar, who now sits on the Tyler City Council.
District 1 includes Smith, Gregg, Rusk, Upshur, Marion, Harrison, Rusk, Panola, Nacogdoches, Shelby, San Augustine, Sabine and Angelina counties; plus a portion of Cass County.
Gilbert planned two other campaign kickoff events, in Longview and Nacogdoches in the afternoon. He also promised town hall meetings twice a year in each of the district’s 12 counties if he is elected.
The primary is March 3, and the general election is Nov. 3, 2020.
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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday tapped East Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes to lead the State Affairs Committee in the Texas Senate.
The appointment is a promotion for the Mineola Republican, who served as vice chairman of the committee during the 86th legislative session that ended Memorial Day.
State Affairs is tasked with leadership on several topics including conduct of elections, oversight of public pensions and the operations of state and local government.
“I am honored to serve as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee and am grateful to Lt. Gov. Patrick for the confidence he has placed in me,” Hughes said in a written statement. “The State Affairs Committee deals with some of the most important and most difficult questions facing the people of Texas.”
The appointment takes effect Oct. 1.
Hughes succeeds Republican Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, who has been named chairwoman of the Senate Redistricting Committee.
Hughes is in his second term in the Upper Chamber, having previously served seven terms in the Texas House of Representatives. He represents 16 Northeast Texas counties including Smith, Upshur, Gregg, Rusk, Panola, Harrison, Marion, Morris, Cass and Camp counties.
Hughes did not immediately respond to a request for comment and to say whether he will remain chairman of the Senate Administration Committee that he led in the recent legislative session in Austin.