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May 19, 2003     (512) 463-0300

Legislature Authorized to Set Liability Limits if Approved by Voters

Senator Frank Madla
Senator Frank Madla sponsored SB 770 which would help "mom and pop" Texas wineries compete with larger companies by authorizing the direct shipment of wine to purchasers for personal use.

Austin - Legislation preliminarily approved by the Senate today would help small Texas wineries expand their sales, this according to San Antonio Senator Frank Madla. Senate Bill (SB) 770 would authorize wineries to ship directly to purchasers for personal use. "It's been a long eight years," said Madla, which is how long he has been trying to get this legislation passed.

Under SB 770, a purchaser of wine would be prohibited from having more than three gallons of wine shipped in any 30-day period. Madla allayed some Senators' concerns by prohibiting the shipment of wine into dry areas and to minors.

A measure passed by the Senate today would give voters the final say on whether the legislature should be granted the authority to determine damage caps for liability claims in the Texas Constitution. Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, Senate sponsor of House Joint Resolution (HJR) 3, called the bill a critical component of a package of legislation aimed at stabilizing insurance rates in Texas.

Senator Jane Nelson
Senator Jane Nelson presented HJR 3 today, saying that the Joint Resolution is part of a bill that would help cap medical malpractice insurance rates. "We need relief now," the Senator said.

According to Nelson, if the authority to set limits for non-economic damages is not expressly given to the legislature in the Constitution, it could be challenged in the courts and tied up for years. Voters will have the chance to accept or reject the constitutional amendment on September 13, 2003.

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst said that if the voters approve the bill, "we can go forward with meaningful tort reform and that we can start the hard work of lowering medical malpractice rates, which are forcing so many of our fine doctors out of the practice of medicine."

The other piece of legislation, House Bill (HB) 4, was approved by the Senate on Friday. Senator Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant said that HB 4 should decrease the number of merit-less lawsuits and stabilize, or lower, insurance rates.

Dewhurst said that these two pieces of legislation are about making sure that Texans have access to affordable healthcare.

Legislation that would allow retail electric providers to receive renewable energy credit for purchasing electricity produced by burning municipal solid waste was also debated by the Senate today. Senate Bill (SB) 1325, authored by Dallas Senator John Carona, would give the Public Utility Commission the discretion to set a cap on the amount of power produced by trash incineration to receive credit under the Comprehensive Municipal Solid Waste Management, Resource Recovery, and Conservation Act. The bill passed by a 22-9 vote.

Also given preliminary approval today was SB 1200, by Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio. It would create the TexasNextStep grant program to pay for eligible students' tuition, fees, and books for up to two years at any public community, technical, or lower-division institution in Texas, assuming that funds become available within the next two years.

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, May 20, 2003, at 8:00 to consider the Local and Uncontested Calendar and, upon completion, stand adjourned until 11:00 a.m. for session.

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

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