Senate Democrats Block Bills To Bolster School Security, Mental Health Resources

Sen. Chris Murphy slammed GOP legislation as "theater"

Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) / Getty Images
September 16, 2022

Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked two bills from Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) that would have used COVID-19 stimulus funds to bolster school security and mental health resources for students.

The Securing Our Schools Act, which was cosponsored by Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), would double the number of police officers in public, charter, and private schools, strengthen physical security measures like alarms and locks, and put thousands of mental health professionals in public schools. The Protect Our Children’s Schools Act ​​would fund that effort, appropriating billions of dollars in unspent education-related COVID funding. Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) objected on the Senate floor to both, killing the legislation after Cruz sought unanimous consent.

Murphy called Cruz’s legislative push "theater." Cruz responded he was "genuinely flabbergasted" Murphy would object to the bill without debating its merits.

"If another lunatic attacks a school, and there’s not a police officer at the front door to stop it, remember right now," Cruz said. "Remember this moment when the Democrats said, ‘No, we will not protect our kids.’"

The bills are the latest school safety measures Senate Democrats have blocked since the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, in May. Days after the shooting, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) axed a bill that would have tasked Homeland Security with collecting school safety data and providing recommendations to law enforcement.

The Cruz bills would have allotted $25 billion to place security officers and mental health workers in schools and tripled FEMA’s grant program for school security. Cruz’s bills would have barred schools that teach critical race theory or advocate for abortion from accessing the funds.

Murphy said he was in legislative talks with a more "serious legislator," Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.), about a similar school security bill. An aide in Lankford’s office told the Washington Free Beacon that Murphy was mistaken and the two senators are collaborating on a different education bill. Lankford cosponsored Cruz’s school security bill when it was introduced in July.

"Schools should have the flexibility to access unspent COVID funds to strengthen school safety," Lankford said in a press release at the time. There is $135 billion in leftover education-related COVID relief.

Cruz told CBS News on Tuesday he hoped the funds for mental health professionals would find early "warning signs" among troubled teenagers. "Some of these crimes could be stopped before they're carried out," he said.

Murphy partnered with Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) on another school safety bill in June, which President Joe Biden signed into law the same month. That law increased screening measures for some gun buyers. The overall school funding was a fraction of the Cruz bill, allotting $2 billion for mental health resources and $300 million for school security.

On Wednesday, Cruz called the law a "big gun control package" that "will do nothing—zero—to stop mass murders."

"There's no money on the left for actually stopping these crimes," Cruz said. "The money is for disarming law-abiding citizens."

A spokeswoman for Murphy did not respond to a request for comment.