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March 22, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Tuition Grant Bill Passed
After Contentious Debate

AUSTIN - A bill to create a grant program for students attending private vocational schools was passed by the Senate today, but not before Bryan Sen. Steve Ogden raised concerns about a trade association's efforts to secure its passage.

The bill, the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 554, was authored by Dallas Sen. John Carona. A companion bill, House Bill 1873, has been filed by State Reps. Jim Solis, Carlos Uresti, Jaime Capelo and Norma Chavez.

During floor debate, Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan was the first to voice opposition to the bill, arguing that state money would be better spent on public vocational schools and community colleges.

An amendment authored by Carona was added to the bill that he said would make it clear that the state would not have to put money into the fund, which would make the bill simply a vehicle to use federal funds as they become available.

Ogden then referred to a package he had received at his office encouraging him to vote for the bill. The package was prepared by the group Career Colleges & Schools of Texas (CCST). According to the group's website, CCST "is the state association for private, post secondary institutions that prepare people for today's jobs and great careers."

Included in the package were two $1,000 scholarship certificates, which according to an accompanying letter, were being offered to every member of the Texas Legislature. The letter continued that the scholarships could be given to any 2001 high school graduate from the legislator's district. The package also included a fact sheet on the Senate and House bills, with a request to support the legislation.

Carona said he had not seen the package.

"I think the bill ought to rise and fall on the merits," Ogden said. "I shouldn't be getting information in my office that happens to have what I consider a financial inducement of two thousand dollars as just a little bonus for supporting the bill."

"Well, senator, again, I don't have a clue what you're talking about," Carona replied, "because my first knowledge of it was when you brought it to my attention on the floor during this debate."

Carona then made a motion to continue the process of moving the bill through the Senate. CSSB 554 was finally passed on a voice vote.

In other Senate news, Fort Worth Sen. Mike Moncrief spoke at a press conference with members of the Texas Tuberculosis Coalition urging awareness of the disease.

"This is not a disease of the past, but a disease we must pay attention to today, as well," Moncrief said. "We cannot become complacent in our fight. We must sustain our effort in this battle against this dread disease."

Moncrief pointed out that tuberculosis is the second-leading cause of death worldwide. He added that Texans have the 10th-highest risk in the country of contracting tuberculosis, with particularly high risks in the border region and metropolitan areas.

Earlier in the day, Carona joined with the Better Texas Coalition at a press conference urging the Legislature to establish a fully funded health insurance plan for public school teachers and employees.

"The people of Texas have made their wishes known by electing those of us who promised health care coverage as a way to recruit, retain and reward desperately needed public school personnel," Carona said. "It is now time to fulfill our obligation."

Carona is the author of Senate Bill 135, a proposal that would create a statewide teacher and school employee and retiree insurance policy.

The Senate stands adjourned until 1 p.m. Monday.

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