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March 20, 2001     (512) 463-0300
Photo: The Senate recognized the winners of the 2001 Texas Medal of Arts Awards on Tuesday at the Capitol
The Senate recognized the winners of the 2001 Texas Medal of Arts Awards on Tuesday at the Capitol. The winners included Texas actors, musicians and artists as well as art educators and patrons. House Concurrent Resolution 178, sponsored in the Senate by Teel Bivins of Amarillo, was unanimously adopted in recognition of the inaugural class of Texas Medal of Arts Awards honorees.

Ratliff Optimistic About Teacher Health Insurance Plan

AUSTIN - Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff today said he expected that the Senate would be able to come up with a plan to provide some state funding for health insurance for teachers and school employees.

"I think we will pass a teacher health plan, put it in place, and then we will determine how much money we can put into it," Ratliff said. "And the balance will be the responsibility of the school districts and/or the teachers and the school employees."

Teachers' groups have called for an insurance plan similar to what state employees receive, with individual coverage provided at no cost and dependent coverage provided at half cost. Teachers have testified before committees that even in some school districts where insurance is available, the premiums are often too high for them to afford.

Budget constraints would make 100 percent funding impossible, Ratliff said, but teachers would still benefit from a statewide plan that at least would make coverage more affordable.

"Simply by putting it in place, we accomplish a great deal for these school districts that either have plans that are very expensive or they don't have any plan at all because they simply can't get an insurance company to write it," Ratliff said.

Ratliff said the dilemma facing the Senate Finance Committee, which writes the General Appropriations Bill, is that money dedicated to funding insurance is also money that would have gone to schools for other purposes.

Although the 77th Regular Session of the Legislature has reached the halfway point, Ratliff said there is still enough time left to craft an insurance funding plan.

"There's lots of time," Ratliff said. "Seventy days is a long time in the life of a legislature."

In session, the Senate adopted a resolution honoring the recipients of the 2001 Texas Medal of Arts Awards. The recipients included Texas actors, musicians and other artists, along with art teachers and patrons.

Among the honorees was actor Tommy Lee Jones, writer Horton Foote, pianist Van Cliburn and musicians Flaco and Santiago Jimenez. Willie Nelson also received a Texas Medal of Arts Awards, but did not attend the Senate proceeding.

The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 178, was sponsored in the Senate by Amarillo Sen. Teel Bivins.

Later in session, the Senate passed a bill authored by Bryan Sen. Steve Ogden, Senate Bill (SB) 487, that would allow the Texas Department of Transportation to accept bids electronically. The Senate also passed SB 210, authored by Bivins, the chair of the Senate Education Committee that widens the eligibility for a scholarship program for students who complete high school in three years.

The Senate stands adjourned until 11 a.m. Wednesday.

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