Updated at 3:15 p.m. with additional comments from Landgraf.
AUSTIN — The Texas House on Wednesday passed a bill to create a state active shooter alert system, pushing through the first piece of legislation to address multiple mass shootings in the state since the Legislature last met in 2019.
House Bill 103, known as the Leilah Hernandez Act in memory of the youngest victim of the Midland-Odessa shootings of 2019, would create an active shooter alert system similar to an Amber alert for missing children. The House passed the bill on a vote of 146-0. It now moves to the Senate.
The bill’s author, Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, said he hopes such an alert system will save lives by warning people in the vicinity of an active shooter in their area.
“An alert system of this kind could have helped spare the life of Leilah Hernandez, a 15-year-old Odessa High School student who was the youngest victim killed on that tragic day,” Landgraf said. “Leilah’s family and other victims’ families are passionately advocating for this alert system.”
The bill would allow local law enforcement agencies to opt in to an alert system operated by the state’s Department of Transportation that would tell people within a designated area about an active shooter in their vicinity. The bill originally would have sent an alert to people within a 50-mile radius, but Landgraf amended the bill to allow law enforcement agencies flexibility to send the alert as narrowly or as broadly as they deem necessary.
Landgraf said he received help from the Hernandez family in crafting the bill and Leilah’s mother, Joanna Leyva, testified in favor of the bill at a legislative committee hearing.
Leilah Hernandez was with her family at a car dealership on Aug. 31, 2019, shopping for a car for her older brother Nathan. The 18-year-old had convinced his parents to let him test drive a truck. As the family headed toward the leasing office, a man who had shot a DPS trooper with an illegally acquired gun less than 15 minutes earlier pulled up to the dealership and started shooting at the family.
Leilah was fatally wounded and Nathan was sent to the hospital after being shot in the arm. But the man had already shot multiple people during a spree that moved from Midland to Odessa through Interstate 20 and country roads.
He ultimately killed eight people, including himself, and wounded 25 others.
Landgraf said Leilah had a cellphone in her hand and could have been saved by an alert to her phone. He thanked Leilah’s mother for supporting the bill and testifying in front of lawmakers.
“It’s our hope and our prayer that HB 103 will prevent future Texas families from experiencing the pain and the loss that far too many Texas families are feeling and have felt in recent years, and I sincerely hope that the passage of this legislation, helps you and your family to take one more step on your healing journey,” Landgraf said.
Landgraf said Leyva’s willingness to step out of her comfort zone to testify in favor of the bill at the Capitol fueled his motivation to get the bill passed quickly and moved to the Senate. He said Leyva’s help had helped convince other legislators to pass the bill unanimously.
Landgraf said he was passing the bill in the memory of Leilah Hernandez and all victims of mass violence. As the bill was passed on second reading, Landgraf read the names of the shooter’s seven victims: Hernandez, Rudy Arco, Kameron Brown, Raul Garcia, Mary Granados, Joe Griffith and Edwin Peregrino.
“It was important for me to say their names on the House floor,” he said. “I don’t want those names to be forgotten. And I know it’s true for El Paso, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe [shootings]. We don’t want these folks to be forgotten.”
Democrat Judith Zaffirini — whose district includes Sutherland Springs, where a shooter killed 26 people and wounded 20 others in 2017 — will sponsor the bill in the Senate.
Other bills related to two major mass shootings in West Texas in 2019 have stalled in the Legislature despite early signals from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott that they would use their political capital to prevent future mass violence. On Aug. 3, 2019, a shooter killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso after driving to the border city from North Texas to stop a “Hispanic invasion.”
Democrats have filed a slew of gun control bills that would bar semiautomatic rifles, allow state prosecutors to go after felons who lie to try to get a gun, and create red flag laws. All face significant opposition from gun rights supporters.