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Commissioners Court adds security screenings

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt has announced that all visitors to weekly Commissioners Court meetings will be subject to security screening starting next week. A non-operational metal detector standing in front of the court chambers at the regular meeting Tuesday heralded the heightened security to come.

The change comes amid heightened anxiety over the rising death toll from recent high-profile public shootings. Central Texas has been spared from the shocking violence experienced over the past few months in San Bernardino, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Charleston, South Carolina. Nonetheless, there have been nerve-rattling incidents of random gun-related mayhem in recent years.

Add to that several tense episodes at Commissioners Court meetings this year that ended with deputies escorting public communicants from the chambers, and regular visitors may feel a sense of relief over the introduction of metal detectors.

“I regret to take this step, but I recognize that the world is a little different now,” Eckhardt said from the dais Tuesday morning, explaining that the safety of county employees and public visitors is a top priority.

The change in policy brings the county closer in alignment with the city of Austin and the state of Texas, both of which have full-time metal detectors and X-ray machines posted at the entrances of their respective headquarters. The county also operates security checkpoints at the doorways of its civil courthouse and criminal courthouse buildings. Up until now, however, the Commissioners Court essentially relied on the honor system to keep armed visitors from bringing in their weapons.

After Eckhardt’s announcement, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty asked whether county employees would be exempt from the screening process. Eckhardt told him that that question has yet to be determined, but since the discussion was not on the agenda, the commissioners could not deliberate on it. However, she promised to “work out the bugs” and said the court would strike the “appropriate balance between safety and convenience.”

Eckhardt told the Austin Monitor after Tuesday’s meeting that the courtroom is still considered a gun-free area under the newly loosened state law, and therefore even licensed gun-owners will not be able to pack heat while the commissioners conduct their business.

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