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May 1, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Truck Bed Passenger Bill
Goes to Governor

AUSTIN - The Senate today voted to concur with a change made in the House of Representatives to a bill that would place greater restrictions on pickup and truck passengers.

Senate Bill (SB) 399, authored by Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan, would prohibit children 17 and younger from riding in the bed of a pickup or truck or on a trailer. The House amendment would allow for hay rides with a permit from local authorities. Under current law, children 11 and younger cannot ride in the back of a truck or trailer at speeds greater than 35 miles per hour.

The bill was passed by the Senate on March 13 after two days of debate. Houston Sen. Mario Gallegos was one of SB 399's most outspoken opponents when it was first debated, saying the bill would create an "open season" for police to pull over Hispanics because many have only a pickup for transportation.

Gallegos continued his opposition today, citing a newspaper report that says Hispanics are pulled over by police more often than Anglos.

"I'm tired of bills like this that are well-intended, but are targeted to minorities," Gallegos said.

Duncan responded that SB 399 does not target any group, but is instead focused on child safety.

"This bill is not about racial profiling. It's not about targeting minorities. It's about targeting kids and safety for kids," Duncan said. "You've all seen kids in the back of a pickup. It makes no sense, because even the most minor of accidents can cause serious, permanent injuries and even death to children. This bill will prevent that."

The bill will now go to Governor Rick Perry for his consideration.

The Senate today also passed the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 344, a measure authored by Amarillo Sen. Teel Bivins that would create a sliding scale for crude oil and gas severance taxes. Bivins said the bill is intended to keep the industry from drastically reducing production and laying off workers when petroleum prices are critically low.

CSSB 1581, a bill targeting predatory lending practices, was also passed following a heated debate. One of the key provisions of the bill would prohibit lenders from requiring borrowers to waive their legal rights, said its author, Dallas Sen. Royce West.

The Senate also passed SB 1654, a bill authored by Beaumont Sen. David Bernsen that would prohibit insurers from placing restrictions on how a lawyer can defend the insured. Bernsen said SB 1654 is based on an ethics opinion published by the State Bar of Texas Professional Ethics Committee.

In committee news, discussion on SB 1, the General Appropriations Bill, continues in conference committee. Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, the chair of the Finance Committee and the Senate chair of the conference committee, said the House and Senate members are in disagreement on some budget priorities.

Ellis said the Senate Health and Human Services Committee has identified Medicaid, Medicaid simplification and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as priority funding issues, while the House has placed a higher priority on funding for public school employee and teacher health insurance.

"We've got the second-youngest population in the country in Texas," Ellis said. "We have to address the healthcare needs or our people.

"So that's what this disagreement is all about, but it's a disagreement among family members and it will work out."

The Senate stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

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