Continuing his efforts to champion law enforcement since five Dallas officers were shot to death in July, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Wednesday that he will press legislators to provide all 59,000 patrol officers in Texas with bulletproof vests capable of stopping high-caliber rounds.
Early estimates place the cost at $15 million to $20 million, Patrick said, vowing to fight for the money during the 2017 legislative session despite a tight budget caused by depressed oil and gas prices.
“First and foremost, we have to protect the lives of police officers,” Patrick said at a Capitol news conference. “It’s the least we can do for the families of these officers so when they leave home every day … at least they have the best protection possible.”
Three of the officers killed in Dallas were shot through their vests, but the protection worn by the other two officers who died wouldn’t have stopped the sniper’s bullets either, Patrick said.
“We can do better,” he said. “We’re going to find the best (vests) we can have.”
Patrick also announced a second initiative that would waive property tax payments for the spouse of a first responder — police, firefighters and other emergency crews — who dies in the line of duty.
Grieving families shouldn’t have to worry about whether they can afford to keep their homes, Patrick said, adding that he will list the legislation as a priority, giving it a low bill number to highlight its importance when the legislative session begins in January.
The tax cut would remain in effect as long as the spouse remained unmarried, and the benefit would be grandfathered so it can apply to the spouses of those recently killed on duty, he said.
Ashlee Hardy, whose husband, Wes Hardy, was a Plano police officer killed in 2007, said providing tax relief would be a huge help to families in a similar situation.
“When he was killed, it shattered our world, and the first thing I said to myself was, ‘How am I going to pay the bills?’” said Hardy, whose twin daughters were 3 years old when their father died.
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of TMPA, the state’s largest association of law officers, praised the effort to improve the quality and availability of bulletproof vests.
“There are 2,500 law enforcement agencies in the state of Texas, from one individual up to the Houston Police Department with 5,500, so the needs out there are so diverse, it really does have to be the state that steps up and takes the lead on this,” Lawrence said.