On Tuesday June 2, the regular session of the 78th Legislature came to a close. My colleagues and I were faced with one of the most difficult sessions in recent memory, and I am confident we have found solutions to some of the most pressing problems faced by the citizens of Texas.
This edition of Capitol Update focuses on several pieces of major legislation deliberated and passed this session. Portions of this article were taken from the Senate News website. For more information, please visit their site at www.senate.state.tx.us.
Crafting a budget was one of the toughest tasks the legislature faced this session due to a $10 billion deficit announced by the comptroller in January. Funding for education and social services were the most deliberated issues.
The Legislature finally approved the $117.4 billion budget, HB 1, for 2004-05 after much deliberation and debate.
The House Bill 1 Conference Committee's recommended appropriations for state government operations for the 2004-05 biennium total $117.4 billion from all fund sources. The recommendations provide a $1,602 million, or 1.4 percent, increase from the 2002-03 biennial level. General Revenue funding, including funds dedicated within the General Revenue Fund, totals $63.5 billion for the 2004-05 biennium, a decrease of $2.2 billion, or 3.4 percent, from the anticipated 2002-03 biennial spending level.
Next week's Capitol Update will feature a more in-depth analysis of the recently passed budget.
The insurance reform bill, Senate Bill 14, uses a hybrid approach to increase the regulation of residential property and automobile insurance markets. Under the deal, insurance writers with ninety-eight percent of the homeowners market would have to adhere to a prior approval system in which the Commissioner of Insurance would have to approve a company's rates before they can be put into effect. The companies would then fall under a file-and-use system starting December 1, 2004, which means that they would have to file their rates with the commissioner, but they would not have to receive prior approval before they are used.
The companies that write the remaining two percent would be regulated under a file-and-use system.
Automobile insurers would remain under the current benchmark system, which allows them to set their own rates below a set limit. They would then be governed under a file-and-use system as of December 1, 2004.
Under the bill, the commissioner is given the authority to change a company to a prior approval system anytime if it is determined that it is abusing file-and-use. Insurance companies would also have to have their forms approved by the insurance commissioner.
One of the most hotly debated issues this entire session was medical malpractice reform. Skyrocketing insurance rates have forced many doctors to leave their practice, and some areas of the state were faced with severe shortages in medical service.
Under the provisions of House Bill 4, the omnibus lawsuit reform package, a claimant would be able to obtain a maximum of $250,000 from all doctors and nurses for damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. A claimant could also sue up to two health care institutions, such as hospitals and nursing homes, for punitive damages for as much as $250,000 each.
Future articles will offer a more in-depth analysis of issues and legislation passed during the recently complete session. For now, I look forward to returning home to Senate District 2. My office is in the process of setting up a series of town hall meeting to take place during the interim, and I hope to see you back home.
To contact Sen. Deuell about the legislative process, contact the Capitol Office at (512) 463-0102 or mail to Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711. The website for the Texas Senate is www.Senate.state.tx.us. The e-mail address for Sen. Deuell is: firstname.lastname@example.org.