Major Legislative Accomplishments of
Senator Rodney Ellis
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As a State Senator, Rodney Ellis has earned a reputation as a leader who gets things done in Austin. He has passed 401 bills which have become law. The following list highlights some of Senator Ellis' major legislative accomplishments and initiatives.
College Scholarship Plan for Texas. In 1999, Senator Ellis authored legislation creating the TEXAS Grant program, an innovative scholarship program that will open the doors to college to a generation of young Texans. Over 115,000 young Texans have received TEXAS Grants totaling over $648 million to help them pay for college. The TEXAS Grant program represents the largest investment in financial aid in Texas history. In 2005, Senator Ellis led the effort to protect the TEXAS Grant program from crippling new restrictions that would have forced thousands of students to lose their aid. At the beginning of the session, the program faced a $130 million budget cut and significant new grade-point and hours-per-semester requirements that would have forced thousands of students to lose their grant. Thanks to Senator Ellis' leadership, TEXAS Grants received a $40 million funding increase and no significant new restrictions.
Tax Relief for Working Texans. In 1999, Senator Ellis authored legislation that will reduce Texans' tax burden by over $2 billion by the end of the 2006. The tax relief plan eliminates the sales tax on over-the-counter medicines and creates a 3-day sales tax holiday every August on shoes and clothing to help Texas families prepare for school. The legislation encourages Texas business to create new jobs by providing franchise tax relief for small businesses, research and development, Internet access and data processing, and tax credits to businesses that offer child care options to their employees. These important initiatives will help create more Texas jobs, keep our economy growing and put more money back in the pockets of Texas families. Each three-day sales tax holiday, Texas consumers save over $50 million.
Jury Pay Increase. Senator Ellis championed legislation that will provide Texas jurors with their first pay raise in over 50 years. Senate Bill 1704 will provide a pay raise for Texas juries for the first time since 1954, when the rate of $6 a day was established. The bill increases compensation to $40 a day by charging an additional $4 fee on criminal convictions. Senate Bill 1704 will dramatically improve participation in the system and increase diversity on Texas juries.
Access to More Affordable Prescription Drugs. Senator Ellis led the effort in the Senate in 2005 to ensure Texans have access to more affordable prescription drugs. SB 410 included an amendment similar to Ellis' SB 518, which will allow the Texas Board of Pharmacy to inspect "brick and mortar" Canadian Pharmacies so that Texans will have safe options for less expensive prescription drugs from Canada. Unfortunately, the Texas Attorney General has declared the legislation illegal. Senator Ellis will continue to the fight in future sessions to give consumers the ability to have access to affordable prescription drugs.
AIDS in Prisons. Senator Ellis sponsored legislation that will tackle a quiet but serious and growing problem -- Texas prisoners returning to their communities unaware that they have contracted HIV in prison. HB 43 will require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to screen inmates upon release. Nineteen other states have implemented this policy.
City of Houston Priorities. Senator Ellis was pivotal in passing four of the City of Houston's top priorities in 2005.
- Houston Land Bank: Senator Ellis passed legislation to help the City of Houston improve the quality of life in densely populated urban areas. Senate Bill 356 will give the city more options in rehabilitating older communities and developing more affordable housing and livable neighborhoods.
- Safe Clear: At the beginning of the 79th Legislative Session, Senator Ellis helped stop legislative efforts to eliminate the city's Safe Clear towing program. Ellis was the only Senator not to sign onto legislation that would put a halt and worked closely with Mayor White to ensure the safety program could continue.
- Cameras at Red Lights: Senator Ellis ensured the City of Houston could continue to protect Houston drivers' safety with the placement of strategic red light cameras. Ellis defeated repeated efforts to change state law to ban such cameras.
- TIRZ: Senator Ellis passed legislation enhancing Houston's Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones. Senator Ellis attached his bill SB 1198 to SB 771, which will give the city more flexibility and provide more cost savings to taxpayers when development occurs faster than originally estimated.
Combating Hate Crimes. In 2001, after years of partisan gridlock, Senator Ellis passed the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act. The legislation gives prosecutors a tool to combat acts of hatred and prejudice in Texas. The Byrd Act stiffens fines and jail sentences for crimes proven to have been motivated by hate. The legislation builds on another Ellis bill passed in 1993, which created the Hate Crimes Reporting Statute requiring local law enforcement to compile statistics on acts of hate and report to the Department of Public Safety.
Investing in Texas Schools. To help create more top flight Texas universities Senator Ellis passed legislation in 2001 that will provide $67 million in special research funding to help more Texas schools, such as the University of Houston, achieve top tier status. In addition, Senator Ellis crafted a budget that will provide an additional $88 million to help Texas community colleges meet rising enrollment and an additional $2 billion to improve Texas public schools. In 2006, Senator Ellis passed legislation that will give Houston area universities over $220 million in tuition revenue bonds for construction, renovation and maintenance of university buildings.
Identity Theft Protection. In 2001, Senator Ellis achieved passage of Senate Bill 473. The bill was authored in response to the growing problem of identity theft in our country and state. This recent legislation offers both victims and potential victims of identity theft the ability to secure personal credit histories and request a temporary security freeze or alert on their consumer file. In addition, the bill prohibits the disclosure or display of social security numbers by private entities and allows the Attorney General to prosecute identity theft under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Ethics Reform. In 2003 Senator Ellis authored the most comprehensive ethics reform for state and local elected officials in more than a decade. House Bill 1606 provides needed financial disclosure and campaign finance reform that has eluded state and local government for many years. Modeled after federal campaign finance laws, House Bill 1606 requires any contribution greater than $500 be reported to the Ethics Commission. The new law prohibits legislators from representing people for compensation before state agencies; requires a legislator to file notice with his or her legislative body before introducing, sponsoring, or voting on a measure for which a close relative is lobbying; requires disclosure of all referral fees for legal services; requires disclosure of legislative continuances; and requires office holders to show campaign fund balances. The bill also requires annual filing of personal financial disclosure statements by municipal candidates
and officeholders in cities greater than 100,000 and all members of sports and port and authority boards.
Race Based Pricing, Insurance Reform and Holocaust Registry. Despite a law against discrimination, many insurance companies for the last century sold policies that had discriminatory pricing based on so-called "racially supportable statistics". In 2003, Senator Ellis authored legislation to make it illegal for certain insurers to collect premiums on a policy where the rates are based on the race, color, religion, ethnicity, or national origin of the policyholder. A violation of the law is punishable as a state jail felony. Senator Ellis also passed legislation requiring Texas companies that have records or holding of any Holocaust survivors publish that data on the Insurance Department's website. Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a similar California Holocaust registry was unconstitutional thereby preventing Texas from establishing its own registry.
Healthy Texas Families. In 2001, under Senator Ellis's leadership as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the legislature made record investments in the health of Texas families. The budget increased funding for health and human services by $5.1 billion --five times the new money allocated by the previous Legislature. The new funds bring the promise of quality health care to 600,000 children now eligible for Medicaid who are not currently being served. The budget simplifies Medicaid eligibility by eliminating unnecessary and burdensome face-to-face interviews and allows families to apply through the mail or over the telephone, as with other insurance programs such as the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Ellis budget also allocates $197 million to increase reimbursement rates for doctors, dentists and hospitals, to ensure health care providers can keep open their doors; provides $63 million to maintain current services at
Mental Health & Mental Retardation state schools, hospitals and community centers and for non-Medicaid elder care services at the Department of Human Services (DHS); provides $1.025 billion for the Children's Health Insurance Program to ensure over 490,000 Texas children have access to quality, affordable health insurance, and $104 million to improve care in state schools and nursing homes.
Fair Defense for All Texans. In recent years, Texas' criminal justice system has been the focus of intense national and international criticism. In 2001, Senator Ellis passed landmark legislation to overhaul Texas' indigent criminal defense system. The Texas Fair Defense Act ensures prompt appointment of an attorney for indigent criminal defendants, provides guidelines on method of appointment for counsel, establishes minimum standards for appointed attorneys, and provides both state resources and oversight of county's indigent defense systems. State funding for indigent defense was increased in 2003, even while other essential programs were cut. The Legislature preserved the existing state funding for indigent defense programs at $11.94 million per year, and Senator Ellis worked to add an additional $1.74 million per year for indigent defense.
Charity Care. In 1993, Senator Ellis authored legislation that requires nonprofit hospitals to provide health care services, including charity care, and to comply with all government regulations in order to receive nonprofit tax exemption status. In following sessions, Senator Ellis authored legislation to require nonprofit hospitals to provide its community benefits of at least five percent of the hospital's or hospital system's net patient revenue.
Biotechnology. In 2001, Senator Ellis authored legislation to create the Southeast Texas Biotechnology Park which brought together public and private health related institutions and other private for profit and nonprofit and governmental institutions to develop, fund and operate a $633 biotechnology research and development park near the Houston Medical Center.
Supporting Texas teachers. In 2001, Senator Ellis led the effort to provide health insurance for teachers and school employees. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Ellis devised a plan to invest $5.2 billion to fund a state teachers' health insurance program and other vital education needs. In addition, Senator Ellis passed legislation providing cost of living incentives to college students who become teachers, which will help reduce the 44,000 teacher shortage currently facing our schools.
Energizing Texas Small Business. In 1997, Senator Ellis created the Texas Capital Access Fund providing up to $140 million in private lending to small businesses and nonprofit organizations. The program helps small businesses that do not qualify for conventional financing to access the capital they need through a unique public-private partnership. Senator Ellis's leadership on capital access and tax issues for business led Small Business United of Texas to give him, in 1999, their first-ever Christopher Scott Award for legislative leadership for small businesses.
Rewarding State Employees. In 2001, Senator Ellis led the effort to reward hard-working state employees with the largest pay raise in over 20 years. In total, Ellis' legislation provides $480.1 million for state employee pay raises. Texas' staffing troubles impact not only the effectiveness of state agencies, but the health of the state budget. According to the State Auditor, high turnover rates in state agencies will cost Texas $500 million over the biennium. Because wages for state workers have not kept up with the pace of the high tech economy, Texas' state employees now earn 11 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector.
Increasing Access to Quality Child Care. In 1997, Senator Ellis passed a package of legislation to improve Texas families' access to affordable, quality child care. The package included $400,000 in grants to help local schools develop, expand or improve child care services before and after school, incentives for banks to provide loans to child care providers and the creation of a child care consumer guide on the Internet to provide parents information about child care services.
Encouraging High Tech. In 1999, Senator Ellis passed legislation creating the Texas Institute of Technology to encourage public-private partnerships to promote high technology opportunities in Texas and begin a marketing program to encourage more Texans to enter technology industries. These new initiatives will partner local businesses, education and public sector to ensure Texas remains on the cutting edge of the high technology economy. Senator Ellis has become a key player in Texas on high tech issues, winning appointment to the e-Texas Commission and the Advisory Council on the Digital Economy. In 2001, Ellis passed legislation to allow the General Land Office to invest $20 million in Houston to create the Southeast Texas Biotechnology Park. The park will help Texas attract and retain more entrepreneurial talent, leading scientists and biotechnology enterprises.
Health Care for Needy Families. In 2001, Senator Ellis led the effort to provide historic investments in health care for Texas families. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Ellis secured an additional $5.1 billion for vital Health and Human Services programs such as Medicaid, CHIP, Mental Health and Mental Retardation services, and aid to senior citizens. In 1993, Senator Ellis passed legislation requiring private nonprofit hospitals -- which receive significant tax breaks -- to provide some level of health care to uninsured patients. As a result of Senator Ellis's law, between 1992 and 1996 the amount of charity care provided by Texas' 146 nonprofit hospitals increased 72%, representing $672.6 million in health care services for needy families.
Easier Voter Registration. In 1993, legislation by Senator Ellis implemented the "Motor Voter" program in Texas, allowing citizens to register to vote when they renew their drivers licenses. Senator Ellis also expanded the programs to other state agencies. To date, more than 9 million Texans have applied for voter registration through this program. Senator Ellis added this amendment to the major transportation bill in 1993.
Reforming Texas Elections. In 2001, Senator Ellis passed legislation improving voter lists by requiring the Department of Public Safety to have voter registration information digitally in electronic form to the county administration office. To ensure Texas does not experience the electoral problems seen in Florida, Ellis also passed legislation to ensure federal election funds are used to replace antiquated punch card systems.
Righting Wrongs. To ensure that the wrongfully imprisoned are able to rebuild their lives, in 2001, Senator Ellis passed legislation to increase the level of compensation for the wrongfully convicted. The legislation allows the wrongfully imprisoned to receive up to $25,000 for each year spent in prison. The maximum a wrongfully imprisoned Texan could recover would be $500,000, up from the $50,000 total allowed under prior law.
Spark Community Investment. In 1997, Senator Ellis passed legislation to create a Community Reinvestment Work Group representing the public, private and non-profit sectors to develop investment strategies for economic development and job creation an assist banks in meeting their community reinvestment goals.
Protecting Texas consumers. In 2001, Ellis passed a law to help the Commissioner of Insurance crackdown on insurance discrimination against minorities. In addition, Ellis passed legislation to protect Texans from scams by punishing deceptive claims by sweepstakes companies.
Lori's Law. In 1997, following the tragic death of an 11 year-old from Houston, Senator Ellis passed legislation to ensure young drivers are held accountable in fatal accidents. Ellis's legislation closed a loophole in the law that allowed a 16-year-old driver responsible for the hit and run death of 11-year-old Lori Ann Braden to go unprosecuted.
Streamlining Government. In 1995, Senator Ellis passed a constitutional amendment to abolish the Office of State Treasurer. Texas voters overwhelmingly endorsed the measure in November 1995, and the Office of the Treasurer closed its doors on September 1, 1996, transferring duties to other state agencies and saving Texas taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
Promote Healthy Families. In 1997, legislation by Senator Ellis required health plans and HMOs to provide insurance coverage for serious mental illness. Under the legislation, health insurance companies must provide 60 outpatient and 45 inpatient visits for Texans with serious mental illness such as depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Also in 1997, Senator Ellis passed legislation requiring HMOs and managed care entities to provide prostate cancer screenings annually for men over 50 and those over 40 at risk of contracting the disease.
Expanding Opportunity for Minority & Women-owned Businesses. Legislation by Senator Ellis has increased the number of state contracts awarded to minority-and-women-owned businesses. Since 1993, state agencies have awarded more than $5 billion in state contracts to HUBs, representing 13 percent of all state contracts -- up from less than 2 percent in 1992.
Safer Schools and Neighborhoods. In 1999, following the tragic killings of 11 students and one teacher at Columbine High, Senator Ellis passed legislation to give parents more information and input on violence prevention efforts in Texas schools. Senator Ellis has also championed initiatives to impose severe penalties on business owners who knowingly allow illegal drugs, prostitution or gambling on their premises.
Texas Leadership. On January 10, 2001, Senator Ellis was appointed Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the most powerful committee of the Senate. His selection came on the heels of an historic interim. In December 2000, Ellis presided over an unprecedented session of the Texas Senate to choose a new Acting Lieutenant Governor. The session was required to fill the vacancy created after President-elect George W. Bush resigned as Governor and Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry was sworn in as the 47th Governor of Texas. Prior to the Senate vote, Ellis served as the official Lieutenant Governor of Texas. In 1999 and 2000, Ellis served as Acting Governor of Texas for a record fifty days. Ellis's work during the interim and the 77th Legislative Session earned him the coveted "Ten Best Legislator" award from Texas Monthly magazine.
Last Updated: July 10, 2006