Texas Lege Preview: Guns! Mental Health! Can the Lege Decide?
In the wake of Uvalde massacre, lawmakers float weapon restrictions, new programs
It's an utter cliche now that whenever there's an outburst of gun violence such as last May's slaughter of schoolchildren in Uvalde, the GOP leadership – which last session eliminated the need for gun owners to hold any kind of permit to carry their weapons in public – pivots to promise to instead improve mental health services that could keep troubled young men (mostly) from turning to violence. Well, now would be a good time for that! Money is abundant. So what happens next?
As of this writing, there are 118 filed bills categorized as pertaining to "weapons" or "mental health." Of the former, Democrats have filed new versions of their perennial attempts to set some limits on straw purchases, high-capacity magazines or purchases of large amounts of ammo, sales at gun shows without background checks, and in the wake of Uvalde, limits on assault weapons. There was last year some bipartisan momentum behind raising the age for owning an AR-15 or similar weapon to 21 – which theoretically could have averted four of the last five mass shootings in Texas – but a court case last year that overturned a similar age requirement on "constitutional carry" has probably put the kibosh on those plans. There are also bills, that may have a little bit of traction this time, to create standardized extreme-risk protective orders ("red flag" laws) that would allow law enforcement, with a judge's permission, to temporarily remove guns from the households of those at greatest risk for violence, usually family violence. House Bill 88 by Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, would create a new sales tax on guns and ammo to fund the Health and Human Services Commission's family violence prevention program.
On the mental health front, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already indicated some interest in expanding the state's network of mental hospital services by using some of the big budget surplus. Bills have also been filed to ease restrictions on the state's ability to reimburse private mental health providers for services that the overburdened public hospitals are right now obligated to provide, such as competency restoration for criminal defendants. As for schools, dual bills filed by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, recognize that local school districts do not have the money to provide often-expensive mental health services (including medications) to troubled students who are unlikely to get help anywhere else, and allow for these expenses to be reimbursed by Texas Medicaid.