Democratic Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez announced a policy proposal to establish a $300 million fund to support victims of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, which claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers in May. Gutierrez said he will file the bill on Nov. 11, but it will be formally introduced in the upcoming 2023 legislative session.
The state senator made his announcement on Wednesday steps away from a memorial for the 21 victims in Uvalde's town square, flanked by some of the victims' families.
"In our judicial system, we have compensatory damages and I have said before, this isn't about money for these families, and there's not an amount of money that will ever bring their children back," Gutierrez said. "Well, we have to set up this $300 million dollar fund because it absolutely has to be punitive in nature."
He added, "We have to know for ourselves that the state failed and the state must admit that it failed."
In the months since the shooting, several law enforcement officials from the school district's police force and the Texas Department of Public Safety have been fired for their alleged inaction during the shooting. Footage from inside the hallway shows that state troopers and school district officers waited for over an hour to stop the shooter as he continued to fire his weapon.
Gutierrez criticized the law enforcement response and called for the Texas Department of Public Safety to be held accountable.
Language in the bill echoes those sentiments, slamming responding law enforcement officials for waiting "more than an hour to confront the attacker and to render aid to the victims."
"As a consequence of their inaction, victims bled out and perished. The legislature finds that there is an emergent need to compensate the victims and their families of the Uvalde attack," the bill says.
The senator said he modeled the bill after the $7 billion fund that was established by the federal government to compensate victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
"9/11 was probably the most incredible scene that you've ever seen from a first responder. The 1000s of them running into a building that was burning, that was likely to fail and likely to fall down. That's what responders are supposed to do. That is not what the first responders did here in Uvalde, that is not what DPS did," he said.
If the bill were to pass, families who lost a loved one in the shooting would be compensated up to $7.7 million per household. It would allocate $2.1 million for injured children. Anyone who was on the campus and suffered trauma could be compensated up to $250,000. The $2.1 million represents the 21 people that perished on that day, the senator said.
Those who wish to be compensated by the fund, would have to submit applications that would be seen by a review board composed of the governor, lieutenant governor and the state speaker of the House. When asked if he had already spoken about the bill with the top Republicans that currently occupy those decisions, Gutierrez, said he had sent them the bill before his announcement on Wednesday.
However, the senator, a Democrat, did not mince words when he slammed Gov. Greg Abbott's response to the massacre.
"It's been abundantly clear that this governor has done very little for this community. Every time he has a bad news today he wants to say well, I gave them $5 million," he said, referring to the $5 million the governor's public safety office invested to establish a resiliency center for the community. Gutierrez hinted that the governor, who has enacted several hardline immigration policies, seemed more willing to spend money on the border than for the families.
A spokesperson for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
His office previously deflected criticism of the governor, saying he has met with families of the victims several times since the tragedy.
Gutierrez made clear that the fund that the bill would establish would never be able to bring back the loved ones the Uvalde community lost that day.
"Our legal system speaks of making people whole. We will never be able to make these families and the other families that are in this community that have been affected – we will never be able to make them whole, but our legal system does that through financial compensation," he said.