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April 24, 2003     (512) 463-0300

Legislation Aimed at Protecting Texas' Freshwater Areas Passes Senate

Austin - The Senate gave final approval to legislation aimed at protecting Texas' freshwater areas. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reports indicate that areas of Texas rivers heavily traveled by motor vehicles for recreational purposes show signs of erosion and decreased fish habitat and vegetation. Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini addresses this problem in Senate Bill (SB) 155, which would prohibit motor vehicles from driving in or on the beds or banks of Texas rivers, with certain exceptions, and provide for the collection of a fee from violators.

"Navigable rivers and their beds are precious and irreplaceable state resources that deserve protection," said Zaffirini. "Ensuring that Texans have access to these areas is the right of every citizen, but that right should not come at the cost of uncontrolled damage to these natural treasures." A navigable river is defined in the bill as one that retains an average width of thirty feet from the mouth up. Exemptions to the bill include rights-of-way, private road crossings, motor vehicles used for official business or construction or maintenance of facilities, and private property land owners who have no reasonable alternative other than to cross a protected freshwater area to access their property on the opposite side.

Also passed by the Senate today by a vote of 26-4 was legislation authored by Palestine Senator Todd Staples confronting a weakness in the tax law. Staples explained that business property used in the production of income is subject to taxation, but since there is currently no penalty for non-compliance, many businesses have failed to report such property. According to Staples, this has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of property not being properly assessed and taxed. Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos proposed two amendments to SB 340 which he said would put teeth into the law by requiring owners to provide factual data, as opposed to the good faith estimate required by the bill, and by giving audit authority to appraisal districts. The Senate voted to table the two amendments.

Under legislation sponsored by El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh and approved by the Senate, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) would be allowed to create and administer a Technology Immersion Pilot Program aimed at improving educational achievement. SB 396 provides that students in as many as five school districts receive a wireless mobile computing device to use for educational purposes. The program would be prohibited from using money from the general revenue fund and would have to obtain funds from grants and other private sources. The Senate also approved of the companion bill, SB 699, also by Shapleigh, which would require the TEA to establish and maintain an education Internet portal that would provide, among other things, on-line classes, academic texts, and administrative tools for use by students, parents, and educators with the intent of providing a wider range of educational resources to more students.

The Senate agreed to allow the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services to develop a program to recruit foster parents from faith-based communities by unanimously passing SB 1489. Bryan Senator Steve Ogden said that his bill intends to help solve the foster parent shortage in Texas. Ogden reported that there approximately 15,000 children under state custody who need homes and only 7,000 eligible foster homes. Under SB 1489, faith-based communities cannot be held liable for wrongful actions committed by foster parents recruited from their organization.

The Senate voted to increase the number of members in the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) from three to five by passing SB 409. The legislation, authored by Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, would give the governor the authority to select the members provided they are from different regions of the state. According to Lucio, an expanded commission would allow for a fuller range of state interests to be addressed, make TTC more accessible to the public, allow TTC members to specialize in specific technology areas, and improve customer service.

Senator Duncan on the Senate floor
Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan explains SJR 33, which would create an appointment/retention system for judges, if it is approved by voters.

Members of the Senate debated and gave tentative approval to legislation which would allow voters to decide whether to change the way judges are selected. Currently, judges on the supreme court, the court of criminal appeals, district courts, and family and probate courts are elected officials. If Senate Joint Resolution 33, sponsored by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, is approved by the voters, then SB 794 would authorize the creation of an appointment/retention system. Under this system, judges would be appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Senate, and then would be required to sit in a retention election at the completion of their term to allow voters to decide whether to retain the judge for another term.

The Senate finally passed SB 331, sponsored by Fort Worth Senator Kim Brimer, which was discussed in yesterday's session. The bill would establish a mechanism for gathering statistical information on a regional basis regarding minors who obtain judicial approval to receive an abortion without notifying their parents. Brimer said that his bill allows for appropriate oversight of judicial bypass without affecting the privacy of individual Texans.

The Senate also passed the following legislation today:

The Senate will reconvene Friday, April 25, 2003, at 10:00 a.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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