Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan indicated he was open in this legislative session to debate on the floor of the House on proposals to raise the minimum age for purchasing military rifles from 18 to 21, but he told reporters during a briefing on Thursday that the measure was not necessary. support to pass in the chamber.
Raising the legal age to acquire the gun that an 18-year-old gunman used in May to kill 19 fourth graders and two teachers in a mass school shooting in Uvalda was a key demand from the victims’ families. Police said the shooter legally bought his gun shortly after his 18th birthday before setting off the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.
Despite months of desperate pleas from the Uvalde families and other gun control activists, the proposal failed to gain support among Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, who said he considered the age increase unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has not yet made a final decision on the matter.
Phelan, who recently traveled to Uvalde to meet with families of the victims, said he does not believe the policy has enough support among Republicans in the House of Representatives for it not to be debated.
“I can count votes. And I told the families, I was very candid with them at Uvald, “I don’t want to mislead you, I just want to tell you that this is where I think the votes are in the Texas House,” Phelan told reporters. Thursday.
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Rep. Tracey King, a Democrat representing Uvalde, mentioned Phelan’s work in his speech to the House on Tuesday as he backed Phelan’s nomination for Speaker of the House. King told American-Statesman on Thursday that he is working on a bill to raise the age for purchasing “AR-powered weapons” from 18 to 21, and plans to introduce it at this session.
King said he had not previously supported such a policy, but the Uvalda tragedy changed his mind. King was one of the few Democrats to vote in the last legislative session in favor of a gun ban.
“I always assumed and believed that a person who wanted to cause such damage would be able to find a way to get (this weapon), but in this particular case (the shooter) tried to get at least two family members that we know about buying weapons, but they didn’t, and he couldn’t get it until he was 18,” King said. “So in this case it certainly could have mattered.”
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Addressing the House after he won his second term as Speaker of the House on Tuesday’s opening day of the 88th Legislative Session, Phelan left the door open on what action the House would consider in the wake of the May 24 mass shooting at an elementary school. Robb.
“This is going to be a particularly difficult conversation, but this body has proven in the past that it can handle difficult conversations,” Phelan said on Tuesday. “I’m sure we’ll do it again.”
On Thursday, Phelan signaled again that he would not stop King’s bill from getting to the House for debate.
“I have the deepest respect for Tracy King,” Phelan said. “He is one of the best members of the House; everyone respects him. There are others who believe that this is not the solution to this crisis and this problem. There will be very personal, long days on the House floor, and that’s what’s great about the House. We have these difficult discussions and then we vote.”
While Phelan doesn’t think the proposal will win votes in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, King is somewhat more optimistic.
“I think there is some support for this measure. I do think the votes are likely to be close, but that’s one of those questions that you really have to put in front of the members where they can sit there in their private thoughts and cast their vote,” King said. “I think we will have a legitimate chance to get there. But what I mean is that you have to (go through) the committee, then the calendar committee, and then the floor vote, and then all the procedural issues that come with that. So it won’t be an easy task, but we’re going to give her all-round press.”
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Even if King’s proposal wins approval in the House of Representatives, it will face a much higher threshold in the Senate, where Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick has not been open to tightening gun restrictions.
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat representing Uvalde, has filed a bill to raise the minimum age for purchasing military rifles.
Other topics Phelan discussed in his interview with reporters on Thursday included:
Democratic committee chairs
Despite pressure from ultra-conservatives in the Republican Party to end the practice of appointing minority party members to committee chairs, Phelan said he was committed to continuing the long tradition.
“This argument that Texas is an independent state, we do everything the Texas way, but there are people who want to do it the way all other states in this country do it. I find this argument interesting and a bit empty because we are delivering on the promises made to the voters,” Phelan said.
Phelan said he strongly supports reinstating Chapter 313, the corporate tax credit program that lawmakers were unable to renew before it expired late last year. Phelan said the lack of a program puts Texas at a disadvantage compared to other states that have such tax breaks.
“In this session, we can have a new program, we can have all this oversight, this transparency and accountability, and hopefully we move forward so that we can compete with other states,” he said.
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When asked about the laws some Republicans have filed regarding LGBTQ issues, especially bills that limit access to gender-affirming care for transgender children, Phelan said it’s part of a “much bigger problem” and one of the reasons he set up a special committee. on youth health and safety.
“There are some, I think very select, school districts that do things that I think are completely inappropriate and come between, especially between parents and children,” Phelan said. “I have a first grader, if he came home and talked to me about sexuality in any form or fashion, I would be down to this school in a few minutes, because this is not the age to discuss adult issues. They are minors.”
Phelan has also targeted social media and its impact on children as part of the problem. “This is unacceptable, (social media) has too much power,” he said. “They control the data too much these days, and we see it on both sides of the aisle.”
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Sports betting and casino
Unlike Patrick in the Senate, Phelan on Thursday expressed support for easing some state restrictions on gambling.
Where he lives on the Texas-Louisiana border, Phelan said legal gambling is “around the corner” and he thinks the average voter would approve.
“What I don’t want to see is walk into every convenience store and see 15… slot machines,” Phelan said. “I want to see high-quality, destination-style casinos that create jobs and improve the lifestyle of these communities.”
In a moment of flippancy, Phelan joked with reporters in the room, saying, “I stopped gambling when I had kids because I could afford both.” He said, laughing, “I’m a better father than a player.”