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May 29, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Senate of the 77th Regular Session
Adjourns 'Sine Die'

AUSTIN - After 140 days and thousands of bills, the Senate of the 77th Regular Session adjourned "sine die" at 3:35 p.m. Monday.

"Sine die" is a Latin term meaning "without another day."

The session began Jan. 9, the second Tuesday in January of an odd-numbered year as prescribed by the Texas Constitution, but the Senate had a history-making job to do first.

Mt. Pleasant Sen. Bill Ratliff was elected by his colleagues on Dec. 28 to serve as the presiding officer of the Senate, the first time in history the Texas Senate has elected one of its own members to serve as lieutenant governor.

Ratliff was chosen to replace Rick Perry, who became governor when George W. Bush resigned the Texas governorship to become president elect of the United States.

"There truly is no greater honor than to be selected by your peers for an office as responsible as this one," Ratliff told the members of the Senate after his election. "I am truly honored. I hope and pray that you will believe that your confidence was not misplaced."

With Ratliff presiding, the Senate began its legislative work. During the next five months, several thousand bills were debated on the Senate floor; some were passed and others died at some point in the legislative process. Others were never even considered.

"I feel very good about the session," Ratliff said. "I don't think I could feel much better about it."

Ratliff pointed to legislation to create a statewide school teacher and employee health insurance plan as one of the issues of key importance that was addressed this session.

"We took a big step down the road," Ratliff said. "We created a situation where we can attract and keep the best people in our classrooms."

Ratliff also cited state employee pay raises, increased education funding and legislation dealing with legal issues such as hate crimes, DNA testing and racial profiling as other important issues of the session.

"And we did all that in the face of the fact that most pundits were predicting that we wouldn't get anything done because of redistricting," Ratliff said. "I was very proud of the Senate and proud of the Legislature that we did not allow our selfish interests to keep us from doing the job that we intended to do."

Although the redistricting issue was one of the most partisan issues this session, Ratliff said he expects the Senate to return to its historically bipartisan ways.

"After we went through those (redistricting) battles in the first part of the '90s, when we came back in we went back to working as a bipartisan group," Ratliff said. "It didn't carry over."

A mix of social, legal, governmental, economic and environmental issues were the subject of legislation this session. But there is one piece of legislation -- the only one that truly must be passed -- that makes all the rest possible, the General Appropriations Bill.

Senate Approves Final 2002-2003 Budget Bill

On May 24, the Senate unanimously voted to approve a $113.8 billion state budget for the 2002-2003 biennium, an 11.6 percent increase over the 2000-2001 figure.

Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis said the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 1, the General Appropriations Bill that contains the budget, takes into account essential spending needs.

"Four priorities were laid out by the members of the Senate, not necessarily in this order, but four key priorities were given to the Finance Committee and the conference committee members," said Ellis, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, "health and human services, state employee pay, public education and school employee health insurance, and higher education, particularly our commitment to the TEXAS Grant program."

Health and human services programs receive an appropriation of more than $34.9 billion, or 30.8 percent of the budget. The money will go to funding services such as Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and maintaining current services.

The budget includes a 4 percent or $100 minimum pay raise for all state employees and non-faculty higher education employees who have at least one year of service. The budget also makes an appropriation of $78.4 million for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to continue pay increases.

Public education accounts for $23.2 billion of the budget, including dedicated funding for a public school teacher and employee health insurance plan. The allotment also provides for increases in public school facilities funding.

The budget dedicates $13.4 billion to higher education, including $71.7 million to fund enrollment increases, $33.7 million for research and $110.6 million earmarked for health-related institutions. The TEXAS Grant program will be expanded from 11,000 grants to almost 100,000.

Funding for the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Workforce Commission is also increased.

"This budget meets the basic needs of a growing Texas while making significant investments in our families," Ellis said. "We have made a strong down payment for Texas' future."

School Employee Health Insurance Plan Approved

On May 27, the Senate approved a compromise proposal to create a state-funded insurance program for public school district teachers and employees.

CSHB 3343 would direct school districts to offer coverage for their teachers and employees. Under the proposal, the State of Texas would contribute $1.24 billion to help fund the plan during the 2002-2003 budget cycle.

The plan would create five tiers of coverage, beginning with bare-bones, catastrophic care coverage. School districts would have to make up the difference between the cost of providing coverage and the state's contribution. School district teachers and employees would also pay for part.

Amarillo Sen. Teel Bivins, the bill's sponsor and the chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the funding for the bill had to take into account the tighter budget reflected in the General Appropriations Bill.

"(The General Appropriations Bill) considered all the demands on state resources, not just those for a new, state-funded school district employee health insurance program, but also for Medicaid, for nursing homes, for a modest increase for state employee pay," Bivins said. "And within all those competing interests we developed this bill."

The bill has been sent to the governor.

Medicaid-Restructuring Bill Wins Senate Approval

A compromise proposal to overhaul the state's Medicaid program was passed by the Senate on May 27. The bill, CSSB 1156, was authored by Laredo Sen. Judith Zaffirini.

"This is the omnibus Medicaid bill that restructures the Medicaid program by moving the administration of Medicaid from the different agencies to the Health and Human Services Commission," Zaffirini said.

Other key provisions of the bill include: * the creation of the Medicaid Legislative Oversight Committee, comprised of three senators and three state representatives; * a requirement that the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) develop a single budget for the entire Medicaid program; and * the authorization of the HHSC commissioner to work with the oversight committee to determine what other responsibilities should be transferred to HHSC.

Seven agencies are currently responsible for Medicaid administration. Zaffirini said CSSB 1156 is intended to improve efficiency and accountability.

"We face significant cost increases as fewer Texans receive adequate health care," Zaffirini said. "We drafted (the bill) to improve the health status of Texans while increasing administrative efficiency, introducing an effective system of checks and balances and improving cost savings."

The bill has been sent to the governor.

Perry Signs Hate Crimes Bill Into Law

With the mother and father of James Byrd, Jr., looking on, Governor Rick Perry on May 11 signed the hate crimes bill passed by the Senate four days earlier.

"In the end, we're all Texans, and we must be united as we walk together into the future," Perry said. "That's why today I have signed House Bill 587 into law. Texas has always been a tough-on-crime state. With my signature today, Texas now has stronger criminal penalties against crime motivated by hate."

House Bill (HB) 587 will increase penalties for hate crimes motivated by prejudice or bias. The act will raise the penalty by one level for a crime determined to be motivated by hate.

Under current law, for example, spray painting a church with a swastika carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. HB 587, which takes effect September 1, will increase the maximum punishment to 1 year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

The bill would also provide assistance to local jurisdictions for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

The legislation has been named the James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Act, in memory of the African-American man who in 1998 was dragged to death behind a pickup in a racially motivated killing.

"This new law sends the signal to would-be criminals that if you attack someone because of their religion or race or gender, you face stiffer penalties, more time behind bars," Perry said. "If you attack a church or a synagogue or a mosque because of hate in your heart, we have a tough new law to deal with you."

HB 587 was authored by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston and sponsored in the Senate by Rodney Ellis of Houston, who authored the companion bill.

"This bill needed Governor Rick Perry's name on it, and I'm very grateful for that. This bill needed and deserved Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff's vote, and I appreciate that. And this bill needed and deserved the leadership of the speaker of the House to get it through that body," Ellis said. "But more than anything else -- take it from someone who started down this road in 1991 -- this bill needed a tough, strong black woman named Senfronia Thompson to put the heat on to get this bill passed."

After signing the bill, Perry presented the pen he used to the parents of James Byrd, Jr.

"This is the best Mother's Day gift that I've ever received, something that I will cherish and can remember all my life," said Stella Byrd. "At least I have something good to remember from his death. It's been hard. It's been real hard to live through it."

Senate Approves Ban on Execution of Mentally Retarded Killers

A compromise proposal to ban the execution of mentally retarded killers won Senate approval on May 26.

CSHB 236 would make a life sentence the maximum punishment for a capital offense if the person convicted is found to be mentally retarded.

Earlier in May, the Senate and House were unable to agree on the bill, sending it to a conference committee to negotiate the differences. Conference committees are comprised of five members from each chamber.

The House also approved the conference committee report on CSHB 236 on May 26. The compromise bill will be sent to the governor.

Two options are available under the CSHB 236 compromise proposal.

Under the first option, the defense can ask that the jury decide during the punishment phase of a trial if the defendant is mentally retarded. If the jury determines the person is mentally retarded, then the court will sentence the person to life imprisonment.

If the jury decides that the person is not mentally retarded, the defense has a second option of asking for a judicial hearing on the issue. If the person is determined to be mentally retarded in the hearing, the maximum sentence is reduced to life in prison. The determination of mental retardation is based on three factors: significantly below-average intellectual functioning, deficits in adaptive learning and onset before maturity.

"This is an historic day for Texas," said Ellis, the sponsor of CSHB 236. "This legislation is a major step forward that proves we can be tough on crime and still have compassionate justice, even in the wild, wild west."

Senate Passes Broad Water Policy Bill

On May 27, the Senate approved a compromise agreement on CSSB 2, a measure authored by Lake Jackson Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown that would create a statewide water policy.

A key provision of the bill is the creation of the Texas Water Policy Council with members from the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Department of Agriculture. The bill is based on recommendations by Texas' 16 regional water planning organizations.

Three public members would also serve on the panel. The Texas Water Policy Council would coordinate state water policy initiatives.

The bill has been sent to the governor.

Racial Profiling Bill Sent to Governor

A compromise version of a bill to combat the practice of racial profiling by police won approval by the Senate and House on May 24 and is now on its way to the governor.

CSSB 1074 would create a legal definition of racial profiling and would require law enforcement agencies to adopt policies and training programs for officers. The bill would also require police to collect and report race and ethnicity statistics during traffic stops and officers' interactions with suspects.

CSSB 1074' s author, Dallas Sen. Royce West, said the bill is the product of a lengthy process that has included the input of law enforcement, civil rights and legal groups.

"I wanted to bring together all of the interest groups and see if together -- let me underscore together -- we could craft a compromise bill that is reasonable to all parties," West said. "We've been working on this issue since early January, holding meetings and having ongoing discussions on basically every word in this bill."

Ratliff was among those who voted for the bill when it came out of the Senate on April 4.

"I felt that it was important that not only the members of the Senate but that my office indicate that it is simply not acceptable in the state of Texas for anyone to be detained or arrested based on a racial profile," Ratliff said. "It was important enough that I break my normal procedure and cast a vote (as a member of the Senate)."

Senate Votes to Pass Texas Emissions Reduction Plan

The Legislature on May 24 approved CSSB 5, the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.

The bill would create a system of incentive programs intended to improve air quality by focusing on reducing diesel emissions, creating incentives for leasing or buying low-emissions vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles, energy-efficient appliances and buildings and a technology research and development program.

Businesses and consumers would share in the cost of funding the programs. For example, businesses would receive incentives for installing emission-reducing equipment, while consumers would pay more to renew driver's licenses and vehicle inspection stickers. The cost increases would vary depending on the area of the state.

In cities such as Houston and Dallas, which are in more danger of exceeding federal emissions guidelines and triggering federally mandated emission reduction action, the cost increase would be greater than in other areas of the state. Thirty-seven counties in Texas are potential "non-attainment areas," meaning they are in danger of mandatory federal action if emissions are not reduced.

The bill has been sent to the governor.

Senate Says Goodbye to Longest-Serving Staff Member

On April 27, the Senate paid tribute to Betty King, the longtime Secretary of the Texas Senate. Known to several generations of lawmakers as the "gracious lady of the Capitol," King stepped down at the end of this session after 24 years as secretary of the senate and more than 53 years of service in the Legislature.

King's first exposure to the Legislature came when she was 14 and served as an honorary page while her mother worked for the speaker of the house. After college, she served as a clerk for the House Appropriations Committee in 1947 before going to work in the Senate in 1949. In 1977 she was elected secretary of the senate by the members, a post she has held longer than any person in Texas history.

"Betty King, you are a giant," said Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos.

The Lieutenant Governor's Committee Room has been renamed the Betty King Committee Room, a high honor at the Capitol.

"I think there's historic significance in the fact that (the) room will be named after a woman," said Ellis. "Mrs. King, we named that room after you because we believe in what you stand for."

The Dean, or longest-serving member of the Senate, Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi, summed up the comments of his colleagues simply: "You have served the State of Texas well."

Truan has served in the Senate since the 65th Legislative Session in 1977, the same session King was elected secretary.

After listening to the senators describe her as a mother figure and debate who among themselves was her favorite, a teary-eyed King replied, "You all behave yourselves."

Senate Can't Agree on Redistricting Proposals

On May 9, the members of the Senate discussed proposals for the redrawing of their own district lines as a Committee of the Whole Senate. Meeting as a Committee of the Whole allows the Senate to work under committee rules instead of stricter session rules.

With the Senate unable to pass a redistricting bill during the regular session for its members' own districts, the task will be undertaken in the summer by the Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB).

The LRB is made up of Ratliff, House Speaker James E. "Pete" Laney, Attorney General John Cornyn, Comptroller of Public Accounts Carole Keeton Rylander and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst.

Although legislative redistricting was not accomplished in the regular session, Congressional and State Board of Education (SBOE) redistricting may be handled in a special session.

The Senate Redistricting Committee held an organizational meeting Monday afternoon and is expected begin holding hearings next week to continue the work on the redrawing of Congressional and SBOE district lines.

Perry has contacted leaders in both chambers of the Legislature, asking them to continue redistricting work. If the legislative committees are able to agree on a plan, Perry may call a special session this summer for redistricting.

Ratliff named two additional members to the Senate Redistricting Committee for post-session work. Senators Mario Gallegos of Houston and Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay will join Senators Ken Armbrister of Victoria, David Cain of Dallas, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Rodney Ellis of Houston, Florence Shapiro of Plano and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo on the committee, which is chaired by San Antonio Sen. Jeff Wentworth. La Porte Sen. Mike Jackson is the vice-chair of the committee. Gallegos and Fraser served as co-chairs of the 76th Interim Redistricting Committee.

Other Senate News

Thousands of bills worked through the legislative process this session. Among the noteworthy were:

For more information about legislation and the Texas Legislature, please visit www.capitol.state.tx.us.

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