Week of July 23-29, 2018

Mental health experts inform school violence & security panel

AUSTIN — Psychological prevention and treatment for students is the best way to head off school violence, mental health professionals told a panel of state lawmakers on July 18.

This was the third in a series of interim hearings for the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Security, a panel named by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in response to the shooting at Santa Fe High School in May. 

Dr. Andy Keller, president of the Meadows Foundation in Dallas, told panel members:

— It is a challenge to predict which students might turn into mass shooters;

— Some 2 million children and teenagers have been diagnosed with mental health disorders; 

— Of those, perhaps 20,000 have a diagnosis associated with a slight increase in violent behavior; and

— Of the 20,000, fewer than 1,000 are considered high-risk for violent behavior.

Keller added that doesn't mean those 1,000 children are more likely to commit a mass shooting.

Dr. Clifford Moy, director of Behavioral Health at the TMF Health Quality Institute in Austin, said professionals “should be focusing on the broader group of students who are at risk” in order to intervene for their and others’ safety.

Dr. Iram Kazimi, director of the Inpatient Pediatric Bipolar Program at UT Health Harris County Psychiatric Center, said children's exposure to violent media changes their perception of how others think about them. "Unless we start addressing how kids actually think about the world around them, I think we're going to be at a loss," Kazimi said.

After its final hearing on July 24, the committee will present a final report to the full Senate with findings and recommendations for the Legislature to consider in its next regular session, which begins in January.

Abbott, DOJ announce grant

Gov. Greg Abbott and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance on July 19 announced a $1 million grant for overtime expenses of law enforcement officers involved in the response efforts after the shooting at Santa Fe High School. The grant will be awarded to the Office of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division and will assist the City of Santa Fe and surrounding jurisdictions with law enforcement costs incurred responding to the shooting.

“As our hearts continue to ache for the lives lost at Santa Fe High School, this grant will provide welcome assistance to a community still struggling with this tragedy,” Abbott said. 

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Today, we continue to help state and local police in Texas to rebuild after the tragic murder of 10 people at Santa Fe High School.”

Bush seeks input on Harvey

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush on July 16 announced additional Hurricane Harvey outreach efforts to gather local and regional input for $137 million in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery funds available for local, regional and state planning. 

The outreach by the Texas General Land Office will include a survey requesting input and encouraging regional planning coordination to help mitigate and lessen the impact of future disasters.

The survey will be distributed to citizens, local officials, councils of government and river authorities to request input for planning topics including:

— Flood control;

— Drainage improvements;

— Resilient housing solutions;

— Economic development;

— and infrastructure improvements.

RRC wraps up restoration 

The Texas Railroad Commission on July 16 announced its Abandoned Mine Land program completed restoration of an eight-acre abandoned uranium mine in Karnes County. 

Known as the Hackney Site, it was last mined in 1963 and sat abandoned for 54 years. It was selected for remediation because of the safety hazard abandoned pits posed to the public, as well as “elevated naturally occurring radiation levels.” The four-month project reduced radiation to safe levels and restored the area to its natural state, the agency said.

West Nile cases confirmed

The Texas Department of State Health Services on July 17 announced it had confirmed three cases of West Nile disease reported by health departments in Austin, Dallas and Galveston. 

Humans can be infected by West Nile virus through the bite of an infected mosquito. Last year, some 135 cases of West Nile illness that resulted in six deaths in Texas. There have been more than 3,500 illnesses and 167 deaths in Texas over the last 10 years, the health department said.