E-News from the Office of Senator Van de Putte
I hope this e-news finds you doing well. As the new year is upon us, I am writing to send you updates on our state laws and helpful information too.
New Laws in 2008
The new year puts several new laws into effect for Texas, of which I want to keep you informed:
Rapid Anticipation Loan (RAL) Protection - HB 1344 (80th session)
I was proud to sponsor House Bill 1344, which was authored by Rep. Villareal (D-San Antonio). The bill requires institutions that offer RALs-- cash advances against a taxpayer's income tax return-- to register with the state and plainly disclose their annual percentage rates, which can represent a significant portion of a typical refund.
This bill will help inform and protect consumers by providing a clear lending agreement. Lenders will now be required to inform customers that they might receive their refunds only one week earlier and will likely incur hefty fees. Furthermore, if the lenders advertise loans in Spanish, they must also provide these details in Spanish.
Background Checks in the School System - SB 9 (80th Session)
Senate Bill 9 authored by Sen. Shapiro (R-Plano) and sponsored by Rep. Branch (R-Dallas) requires school districts to fingerprint all certified teachers, and the majority of other school personnel, as a component of a criminal background check.
Previously, the law required criminal background checks for all candidates of educator certification in or after October 2003; however, the law did not apply to those who were already certified. The Texas Education Agency will select school districts at random and educators will have 80 days to comply. All certified teachers must be fingerprinted by Sept. 1, 2011. This bill also creates the opportunity for this information to be shared between school districts when an employee transfers.
Please log on to: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ for more information on this and other programs.
Divestment of Funds - SB 247 (80th Session)
Senate Bill 247, authored by Sen. Ellis (D- Houston) and sponsored by Rep. Van Arsdale, et al. (R-Houston) requires that pension funds for retired teachers and retired state employees be divested from a subset of companies operating in Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in Sudan, which the U.S. has attributed to the practice of genocide.
Previously, the law did not place any restrictions on the ability of the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS) and Teacher Retirement of Texas (TRS) to invest in companies beneficial to the Sudanese government.
Financial Responsibility Verification Program - SB 1670 (79th session)
Senate Bill 1670, authored by former Sen. Staples (now Commissioner of Agriculture) and sponsored by Rep. Callegari (R-Houston) establishes a financial responsibility verification program to decrease the number of uninsured motorists in Texas. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) and state insurance officials are creating a database to inform officers if a driver has insurance.
According to the DPS, approximately 20 percent of Texas drivers do not have automobile liability insurance. In the past year, DPS has issued over 195,000 tickets to drivers in Texas for lack of insurance; and drivers can be ticketed $175 to $350 the first time they are caught without a policy.
Sexually Oriented Business Fee - HB 1751 (80th session)
House Bill 1751, authored by Rep. Cohen (D-Houston) and sponsored by Sen. West (D-Dallas), will require gentleman's clubs to collect a $5 per customer fee, with a portion of proceeds going to the sexual assault program fund.
Landlord-Tenant Reform - HB 3101 (80th session)
House Bill 3101 authored by Rep. Anchia (D-Dallas) and sponsored by Sen. Carona (R-Dallas) is a landlord-tenant reform bill intended to ensure fair business and prohibit illegal practices that take advantage of vulnerable tenants.
Key provisions include, a landlord can no longer change a tenant's locks when the rent has not been paid, unless that provision has been specifically notated in the lease; likewise, a landlord can only charge fees for late rent, if explicit notice of the fees was included in the lease.
Domestic Violence Offenders - HB 3692 (80th session)
House Bill 3692, authored by Rep. Strauss (R-San Antonio) and sponsored by Sen. Wentworth (R-San Antonio) allows a judge to refuse bail to a person who violates an emergency protective order or who is charged as a repeat domestic violence offender.
Child Product Safety
With the new year upon us, the holiday decorations may have been put away, but many of us are left with concerns about our children's new toys.
With the number of toy recalls, due to lead contamination in 2007, parents are understandably worried about product safety. Lead poisoning in children is associated with a number of health problems, including learning disabilities and growth retardation; and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates approximately 930,000 children between ages one and five have blood lead levels that are of concern.
The CPSC enforces the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), which bans toys with hazardous amounts of lead. Unfortunately, the CPSC does not have the authority to require companies to stop using lead in consumer products, if the levels are not hazardous. However CPSC has asked companies to voluntarily eliminate lead from products used in households or schools.
According to the Toy Manufacturers of America (TMA), lead is not deliberately added to any toy product. In instances where lead has been found in a toy product, most cases are a result of suppliers not following the manufacturing specifications. In the U.S., the TMA represents approximately 85 percent of toy sales.
Last session, I worked with the non-profit organization, Kids in Danger, on legislation that would have prohibited the use of dangerous children's products in licensed child-care facilities, and provided for parents and caregivers to learn about these products on the Texas Department of State Health Services' website. Although the bill passed in the Senate, unfortunately the bill did not pass in the House; every legislative session there are a number of bills that do not make it through the entire legislative process. Now, more than ever with the recent recalls, is the time to improve our children’s product safety system on a statewide basis. As I gear up for the 81st Legislative Session, to begin in January 2009, I intend to re-introduce similar legislation to protect our children from unsafe products.
For information on child product safety, please visit www.cpsc.gov or www.KidsInDanger.org. You may also reach the CPSC by phone at: (800) 638-2772.
Please take a moment to learn about the potential hazards to your little ones. Our children are our greatest resource and we must do everything in our power to protect them.
Please feel free to contact me regarding any of the above issues; and please have a safe and happy weekend!
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR VAN DE PUTTE
700 N. St. Mary's St. #1725
San Antonio, Texas 78205
(210) 733-6605 - fax