One opponent of Texas Senate Bill 354, which would legalize licensed concealed carry (of handguns) on Texas college campuses, has resorted to blatantly false statements to make his case. Faced with a dearth of fact-based evidence supporting his position, Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) has conjured up a fiscal boogeyman, telling anybody who’ll listen that the passage of SB 354 would cost state colleges millions in additional insurance premiums. But like most fairy tales, this one is borne out of pure fantasy.
On April 7, Senator Ellis lashed out against SB 354 on the floor of the Texas Senate. Addressing the bill’s author—Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio)—Senator Ellis proclaimed, “I’m told by the community colleges it’s going to raise their insurance costs for liability insurance, despite the fact that under your bill you say they have no liability. But you can’t stop the insurance rates from going up. I’m told that one of my community colleges—they think it’ll cost a million dollars.”
Apparently accepting Senator Ellis’s claim at face value, Senator Mario Gallegos, Jr. (D-Houston) immediately withdrew his support from the bill. A few weeks later, Gallegos told the Texas Tribune, “What’s embedded in this bill, and is not being told, is the unfunded mandate that this bill produces.”
Although Senator Ellis did not name the community college to which he referred, other sources clearly indicate that he was referring to Houston Community College. The HCC board of trustees recently passed a resolution claiming that SB 354 would create a “fiscal burden” for the institution, and Dan Arguijo, spokesman for Houston Community College, recently told the Texas Tribune that HCC’s annual insurance premiums would likely rise by as much as much as $780,000 to $900,000.
Senator Wentworth and others immediately questioned these claims, pointing out that SB 354 provides immunity to colleges, that the fiscal note attached to SB 354 makes no mention of rising insurance costs, and that none of the 71 college campuses outside of Texas that currently allow concealed carry on campus have reported a rise in insurance premiums. W. Scott Lewis, Texas legislative director for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, asked, “On what basis are we expected to believe that college campuses will become the first and only locations in Texas to experience higher insurance rates as a result of honoring state-issued concealed handgun licenses?”
These lingering questions prompted Robert Greene—a concealed handgun instructor, former police officer, and licensed insurance agent—to do a little investigating of his own. Mr. Greene noted, “In all my years of writing commercial insurance for businesses, schools, churches, and the like, I have never had an underwriting questionnaire ask or even allude to whether or not the insured allows CHL holders to carry on the premises. I inquired of my underwriters, and not one indicated that this had ever been an underwriting question.”
When Mr. Greene contacted Senator Ellis’s office, he was told that Austin Community College is among the institutions reporting that its insurance premiums would increase. But when Mr. Greene contacted ACC Environmental Health & Safety Coordinator Robert Rogers, the person in charge of purchasing liability insurance for the college, Mr. Rogers was adamant that he had neither spoken to anyone regarding the school’s insurance premiums nor indicated in any way that those premiums would increase if SB 354 were to pass.
Mr. Rogers even went so far as to point out that, per the Texas Tort Claims Act of 1969, colleges and universities would be immune from liability for the actions of a CHL holder because a concealed handgun license is issued by the state, not the college. He then drew a comparison to state driver’s licenses and the fact that, because colleges must let licensed drivers use the roads passing through campus, colleges are immune from liability for the actions of drivers on campus.
Mr. Greene got a similar response when he spoke to Phillip Dendy, director of risk management for the University of Texas. Mr. Dendy pointed out that that the University of Texas rarely purchases liability insurance because the university is a state entity and, for all intents and purposes, insured by the State of Texas. He concurred with Mr. Rogers’ assessment that the Texas Tort Claims Act would provide immunity to colleges and universities.
Mr. Greene then contacted United Educators Insurance Company, the insurance carrier for Houston Community College, and spoke with Marketing Manager Chris Robinson. Mr. Robinson agreed that, in light of the immunity offered by both the bill itself and the Texas Tort Claims Act, there should be no expectation that colleges will experience higher insurance premiums if SB 354 passes.
These conversations, coupled with his personal experience in the insurance business, led Mr. Greene to conclude that Senator Ellis’s claims are unfounded. W. Scott Lewis concurred, stating, “At best, Senator Ellis has failed to do his due diligence before repeating the dubious claims of a few college officials. At worst, he has resorted to lies to try to justify an unjustifiable position.”