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March 21, 2003    (512) 463-0300

Week in Review

Senator Rodney Ellis stands opposed to legislation that will weaken the right to legal defense for those who cannot afford it
Senator Rodney Ellis stands opposed to legislation that will weaken the right to legal defense for those who cannot afford it.

Insurance Rate Regulation Legislation

The first draft of Senate Bill (SB) 14, regulating insurance rates, was delivered to Senators on Monday and, by Thursday's hearing, the Business and Commerce Committee had forty-four proposed amendments to consider. After some debate, committee members voted on the amendments and rolled the approved ones into a committee substitute to the bill that will be brought forth before the full Senate next week. Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser, chair of the Business and Commerce Committee, told the press that he expects rates to decrease by twelve to fifteen percent immediately after the bill takes effect and, within six months to a year, he anticipates them to decrease back to the level they were at in 2001.

Texas Homeland Security

With the threat of terrorist attacks growing, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Addison Senator Florence Shapiro offered reassurances that the state will continue to provide for the safety and security of its citizens. Dewhurst reported that the state has offered additional resources to assist the federal government in protecting the border.

Shapiro spoke on her proposed homeland security omnibus bill that codifies a security system into statute specifying who is in control of what and what the strategic plan will be. Shapiro said that she filed SB 11 with strong support from the governor.

Shapiro also announced that eighty-eight percent of the forty-four recommendations made by the Homeland Security Task Force during the interim have been completed. She said that some of the rest are waiting on federal legislation or are currently in the legislative process.

Increased Security at the Capitol

Security was tightened around the Capitol following the advent of Wednesday night's U.S.-led military campaign against Saddam Hussein. Access to the east and west gates of the Capitol was restricted and metal detectors were installed at all entrances. According to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the additional security measures will remain in place until the conflict in Iraq is over.

The Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House lead a prayer in the Capitol rotunda
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst was one of the leaders sending out his prayers and hopes for the troops during the first phase of the conflict in Iraq.

A Day of Prayer in the State

A large crowd gathered in the Capitol Rotunda Thursday morning for a special service on behalf of our troops. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Governor Rick Perry were among those present to offer their support to those men and women risking their lives to defend freedom. The governor had declared March 20, 2003 a day of prayer in the State of Texas.

Representative Irma Rangel Dies

Following her death early Tuesday morning, several Senators who had the opportunity to work in the House with State Representative Irma Rangel spoke in her honor during Tuesday and Wednesday's sessions. Rangel became the first Mexican-American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1977 and was a strong advocate for higher education, the poor, minorities, and women. Although Rangel had successfully battled cancer twice before, but could not overcome the brain cancer that eventually beat her at the age of 71.

Upholding the Rights of the Poor

Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, along with religious and community leaders, held a Capitol press conference on Thursday to oppose recently filed legislation that would weaken the right to legal defense for people who cannot afford it. This week marked the fortieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Gideon v. Wainwright decision establishing the constitutional right to appointed defense counsel for poor people accused of a crime but unable to hire a lawyer.

Network to Find Missing Children Approved

During Tuesday's session, legislation by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini was passed by the Senate to officially implement the Amber Alert Network, which was created by an executive order of Governor Rick Perry in August. Amber, a system that broadcasts information about missing children almost immediately, is an acrostic for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response". SB 57 would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to appoint a director to be the statewide coordinator of the Amber Alert Network and grants the director rule-making authority to ensure proper implementation of the system.

Promoting Childhood Immunizations

A measure by Senator Zaffirini based on one of Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's e-Texas recommendations was passed by the Senate on Thursday. SB 486 would require the Texas Department of Health to work with public and private partnerships to increase awareness of early childhood immunizations and would limit the liability of private providers that participate in immunization programs.

Senate Passes Identity Fraud Legislation

The Senate approved legislation during Thursday's session aimed at combating identity fraud. Committee Substitute to Senate Bill (CSSB) 235, sponsored by Senator Fraser, prohibits printing more than the last four numbers of a credit or debit card account number and the expiration date on a receipt.

Protecting Consumers from Home Owners' Associations

The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations met for Wednesday's hearing before a full house to consider SB 949, which would provide a number of protections for consumers concerning home owners' associations, or HOA's. The legislation, authored by Houston Senator Jon Lindsay, severely restricts the circumstances under which an HOA could foreclose on an individual's home.

Bills Passed by the Senate This Week:

Nominations Approved by the Senate on March 19, 2003

Adjutant General's Department:
Wayne D. Marty, Travis County
Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs:
C. Kent Conine, Collin County
Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board:
Bill O. Simmons, Llano County
Commission on Jail Standards:
William C. Morrow, Midland County
Michael M. Seale, Harris County
Charles J. Sebesta, Burleson County
Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education:
Steven M. Byrd, Denton County
Cathy J. Ellison, Travis County
Daniel J. Smith, Bell County
Joe A. Stivers, Walker County
Gary M. Swindle, Henderson County
Texas Juvenile Probation Commission:
Robert P. Brotherton, Wichita County
Keith H. Kuttler, Brazos County
Barbara J. Punch, Harris County
Texas Water Development Board:
Dario Vidal Guerra, Hidalgo County
Thomas Weir Labatt, Bexar County
E.G. Rod Pittman, Angelina County
Telecommunications Planning and Oversight Council:
Jennifer Anderson, Dallas County
Tina L. Brown, Nueces County
Robert Frost, Tarrant County
Johanne M. Ibsen-Wolford, Travis County
Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists:
Kelly Krenz Doe, Galveston County
Rene D. Pena, El Paso County
Gordon D. Ware, Nueces County
Texas Incentive and Productivity Commission:
Janice E. Collins, Bexar County
John Mitchell Moore, Erath County
Board for Lease of Texas Department of Criminal Justice Lands:
Spencer Hayes, Travis County
Texas Municipal Retirement System:
Connie J. Green, Bell County
Carolyn M. Liner, Hays County
Ricardo Menchaca, Midland County
Texas Health Care Information Council:
Kathleen Angel, Travis County
Steven Michael Berkowitz, Travis County
Billy G. Davis, Harris County
Gene G. Freeland, Dallas County
Jean L. Freeman, Galveston County
Peter Okose, Galveston County
Imogen Sherman Papadopoulos, Harris County
Texas Board of Occupational Therapy Examiners:
Grace L. Butler, Brazoria County
David Gregorio Cabrales, Dallas County
Joseph A. Messmer, Nueces County
Clarissa A. Meyers, Hidalgo County
Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments:
Judy J. Briscoe, Travis County
Robert Clayton Strayhan, Bexar County

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