WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE APPROVES OPEN CARRY AND CAMPUS CARRY LEGISLATION
(Austin) — The Texas Senate this week approved two bills that would relax some restrictions on handguns. Monday, the body approved SB 17, by Wichita Falls Senator Craig Estes, which would permit licensed individuals to carry guns visibly in a belt or a shoulder holster. "We've got about 800,000 concealed licensees in this state that I feel like have been vetted, have been trained and can be trusted to decide what's best for them, whether they carry concealed or open," said Estes. "The question we need to ask is not should we permit them to do this, but why are they forbidden to do it?"
The bill would change the current concealed handgun license to simply a handgun license, and licensees would be permitted to carry openly or concealed. Current CHL holders would not have to reapply; their existing licenses would remain valid. New applicants would still be subject to background and mental health checks, and would still have to take a training and safety course. As with current CHL laws, private property owners would still be allowed to ban open carry on their premises.
The second measure, SB 11 by Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell, removes the prohibition against concealed carry of handguns on public college campuses. He told colleagues that the right to self-protection doesn't end when a person walks onto university premises. "The people of the State of Texas own our public universities, therefore we ought not be limiting a right on public property," Birdwell said. The bill does not permit open carry on public universities, and allows private universities to decide whether or not to permit concealed carry on their campuses. Places where concealed carry is banned off-campus, like bars, sporting events and hospitals, would still have those restrictions in place if the buildings are on campus. Finally, college administrators would be permitted to set rules for storage of weapons in campus dorms, which could include a total prohibition on such storage, Birdwell said. Both this bill and SB 17 now head to the House for consideration.
Tuesday, the Senate approved a measure that would offer an alternate path to graduation for high school seniors who fail end-of-course exams. Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo said that there are thousands of students who have passed all their classes and met all other requirements for graduation, yet will have to remain in high school because they failed one or two STAAR exams. "Absent legislative action, up to 28,000 high school seniors will not graduate simply because they cannot pass a high stakes exam," he said. His bill, SB 149, would create individual graduation committees, made up of school administrators, teachers, counselors and parents or guardians. They would consider the entire scope of a student's high school career and decide if the student is ready to graduate. The committee's decision must be unanimous, and the student must still have passed all required courses.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would prevent the sale to or possession of nicotine vaporizing devices, known as e-cigarettes to people under 18. Bill author Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen said that such devices are gaining popularity on school campuses and could serve as a gateway to tobacco use in adulthood. "I call them training devices," he said. Vendors could face fines as high as $500 for selling e-cigarettes to minors.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 23 at 2 p.m.