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May 22, 2001     (512) 463-0300
Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, signs the conference committee report for Senate Bill 1.
Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, signs the conference committee report for Senate Bill 1, the State of Texas' budget for the next two years. With Senator Ellis is State Rep. Rob Junell Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. The two co-chaired the conference committee.

Senate Votes to Improve
Contraceptive Insurance Coverage

AUSTIN - The Senate today voted to approve a measure that would make more types of prescription contraceptives available under health benefit plans.

House Bill (HB) 2382, sponsored by San Antonio Sen. Jeff Wentworth, would require insurance providers to offer coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices equivalent to what is available for other prescription drugs.

"This bill is about contraceptive equity." Wentworth said.

Current regulations prohibit an insurer that covers all other prescriptions from denying coverage for oral contraceptives. HB 2382 would expand that to include all types of prescription contraceptives.

Insurers have not opposed the bill because better access to contraception would save them higher costs of paying for pregnancies later, Wentworth said.

HB 2382 would exempt religious-based plans that have a moral opposition to providing birth control. The bill would not provide for coverage any drugs that terminate a pregnancy.

Bryan Sen. Steve Ogden voiced his opposition to HB 2382, arguing that the bill would create an unfunded mandate that insurance companies expand their coverage.

"There's no question in my mind that by continuing to tell health insurance plans that you have to cover this, and you have to cover that, you're going to drive up the cost of insurance," Ogden said.

Ogden also said he was against the bill because it is so broadly written. He added that HB 2382 should allow consumers who have a moral opposition to contraception to opt into a lower-priced plan that doesn't provide for contraceptive coverage.

The Senate also approved a bill that would create a funding formula for state universities receiving Texas Excellence Fund money.

The Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 1839, sponsored by Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, is intended to raise the academic quality of state universities. Under the bill, the universities would use much of the money to fund research and post-graduate course work.

CSHB 1839 allocates approximately $68 million each biennium to be divided among the participating universities. The funding figure is subject to review each biennium.

Also in today's session, the Senate approved HB 1449, a measure sponsored by Waco Sen. David Sibley that would allow local government bodies to continue to grant tax abatements to help retain and develop existing businesses.

Sibley said the tax abatements have been an effective tool to encourage economic development, but several senators objected to continuing to allow school districts to grant abatements. An amendment was added that would remove school districts from the government bodies that would be allowed to continue to grant tax abatements.

Drivers would have to comply with stricter emissions requirements under HB 2134, which was passed by the Senate today.

Lake Jackson Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, the sponsor of HB 2134 and the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, said the measure was necessary to meet new Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission regulations. The new regulations require auto emissions to be reduced by more than 90 percent to comply with federal law.

Brown said the bill includes safeguards to protect low-income drivers, including a fund to help pay for emissions repairs in certain cases in which the owner of the vehicle cannot afford the repairs.

The Senate also today approved HB 1880, which is dubbed the Agricultural Development Act. The bill's sponsor, Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan, said the bill would allow for the creation of agricultural development districts at the county level.

The Senate stands at recess until 8 a.m. Wednesday, when bills on the Local and Uncontested Calendar will be taken up. The Senate will then reconvene at 10 a.m.

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