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March 28, 2003    (512) 463-0300

Week in Review

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst speaks on insurance reform to the Capitol Press Corp
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst speaks on insurance reform to the Capitol Press Corp.

"Prompt Pay" Bill Passes Senate

The Senate unanimously passed the "Prompt Pay bill", sponsored by Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, on Tuesday. SB 418 clearly defines the elements of a clean claim, which must be paid by the insurer within forty-five days upon receipt. Nelson said that she hopes this will stop the horror stories she has heard from all over the state about health care providers that were not able to pay their bills at the end of the month because the insurance companies weren't paying theirs.

Preventing Identity Theft

Consumers would have more power to fight identity theft under SB 473, passed by the Senate on Wednesday. The legislation, authored by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, would allow a victim of identity theft to place a freeze on his or her credit report for a fee of $8. The measure also curbs over-reliance on social security numbers by limiting their use for identification purposes.

Senate Sanctions Changes to Traffic Laws

Citing the statistic that exceeding an applicable speed limit by twenty-five miles per hour or more can significantly increase the danger to the community, College Station Senator Steve Ogden introduced legislation to the Senate on Wednesday that he says would deter speeding. SB 660 would increase the fine for speeding twenty-five miles per hour or more above the posted speed limit. The offense is currently punishable by a fine capped at $200. Under SB 660, approved by the Senate, the fine can be between a minimum of $200 and a maximum of $500. The bill mandates that a portion of the revenue generated by the increased fine be used for a traffic safety program.

Senator John Whitmire explains his views on Senate Bill 204, which was sponsored by Senator Jeff Wentworth
Senator John Whitmire explains his views on Senate Bill 204, which was sponsored by Senator Jeff Wentworth.

Under another traffic bill also passed by the Senate on Wednesday, a county commissioners court would have the authority to reduce the speed limit to as low as twenty miles per hour on certain roads. Committee Substitute to Senate Bill (CSSB) 540, sponsored by The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams, amends the portion of the Transportation Code that does not allow for a county commissioners court to reduce speeds to less than thirty miles per hour.

A measure passed Thursday by the Senate requires drivers to turn on their headlights when unfavorable conditions result in substantially reduced visibility and the use of windshield wipers. San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth said that his SB 204 will reduce deaths, personal injuries, and property damage and has strong support from many of his constituents.

Interest Rate Ceiling Put to Vote

Legislation allowing voters to decide if the interest rate ceilings on certain commercial loans should be removed was passed Wednesday by the Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 22, sponsored by Arlington Senator Chris Harris, was amended to make the exemption applicable only to commercial loans in excess of $7 million, if secured by real property, and $250,000 if not.

Insurance Regulation Status

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst reported that the Senate is very close to agreeing on the details of SB 14, which mandates comprehensive reform of the Texas insurance industry. He said that the bill should be ready to bring to the floor early next week. Dewhurst said he would prefer to see both homeowners and automobile insurance regulated under the same bill. The Lieutenant Governor believes that the prior approval system the bill creates will provide predictability in the insurance market, increase competitiveness, drive down rates, and increase access to insurance.

Progress on Budget Process

The Senate Finance Committee started the mark-up process on Thursday, the second part of the appropriations process. Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins, Finance Chair, said that the committee will concentrate on cutting costs and delivering services more efficiently to the people of Texas. For most of the agencies, the committee has adopted the recommendations made by workgroups that met over the past couple of weeks.

The Lieutenant Governor remains committed to finding non-tax revenues to balance the budget and maintain essential services without raising taxes. "I don't think it's good for the state of Texas; I don't think it's good for economic development; I don't think it's good for the long term well-being of the state to add taxes right now," said Dewhurst. Some of the essential services he would like to see preserved are the Foundation School Program, higher education, mental health/mental retardation programs, funding for prisons, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program. He will be meeting with Senators, the Governor, and the Speaker of the House to reach a consensus on the additional sources of non-tax revenues that have been laid out, all of which have been used before.

Health Improvement Act Introduced

The Texas Health Improvement Act was introduced on Monday to address what El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh called the critical health challenges facing Texas. Shapleigh cited statistics that show Texas ranked first among the fifty states in the percentage of the population without health insurance. He also said that all but two of the counties along the Texas-Mexico border are designated as federally underserved areas.

CSSB 342 would create the Border Health Corps, which would provide student loan repayments, capped at $10,000 per year, for doctors and nurses in exchange for each year of service they provide along the border. To send the message that with a Texas job comes health insurance, Shapleigh included the provision of health insurance for a company's employees as a factor in awarding government contracts.

Criminal Justice Legislation Presented

Senator Shapleigh also introduced legislation to the Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday that would empower the governor to call a moratorium on executions, which may be revoked at anytime. Senate Joint Resolution 12 would allow the voters to make this decision in a constitutional amendment election this November 4th.

At a Capitol press conference Tuesday, Houston Senator Rodney Ellis and Attorney Barry Scheck, a DNA expert and co-founder of Yeshiva University's Innocence Project, along with three wrongfully convicted citizens who were later exonerated, presented several measures aimed at addressing criminal justice issues.

SB 601 would allow the governor to grant multiple reprieves in capital cases. Currently, the governor has the ability to issue one thirty-day reprieve, which may not be enough time for courts to render a decision. SB 1045 would create a nine-member Texas Innocence Commission to investigate wrongful convictions. Following the closure of the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, SB 1607 was filed to create a commission on forensic science to oversee and conduct quality control of all forensic laboratories in Texas.

Other Bills Passed by the Senate This Week

Nominations Confirmed by Senate on March 26, 2003

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board:
Member, Neal W. Adams, Tarrant County;
Member, Jerry Farrington, Dallas County;
Member, Lorraine Perryman, Ector County;
Member, Curtis E. Ransom, Dallas County;
Member, Windy M. Sitton, Lubbock County.
The University of Texas System Board of Regents:
Hubbard Scott Caven, Jr., Harris County;
Robert A. Estrada, Dallas County;
James Huffines, Travis County.
Members, Midwestern State University Board of Regents:
Member, Patricia Ann Haywood, Wichita County;
Member, Don Ross Malone, Wilbarger County.
Texas State Technical College System Board of Regents:
Member, C.i"Connie" deilaiGarza, Cameron County;
Member, Don H. Elliott, Wharton County;
Member, Michael Franklin Northcutt, Sr., Harrison County;
Member, Jerilyn "Jeri" Kyker Pfeifer, Taylor County;
Member, BarbaraiN. Rusling, McLennan County.
University of Houston System Board of Regents:
Member, Michael John Cemo, Harris County;
Member, Raul A. Gonzalez, Travis County;
Member, Leroy L. Hermes, Harris County.
Texas State University System Board of Regents:
Member, Kent M. Adams, Jefferson County;
Member, Alan William Dreeben, Bexar County;
Member, Pollyanna Allison Stephens, Tom Green County.
Texas Woman' s University Board of Regents:
Member, Harry L. Crumpacker II, Collin County;
Member, Kenneth L. Ingram, Denton County;
Member, Tegwin Ann Pulley, Dallas County.
Texas Commission on the Arts:
Member, W. C. "Abby" Abernathy, Jr., Archer County;
Member, Alphonse A. Dotson, McCulloch County;
Member, Victoria Hodge Lightman, Harris County;
Member, Loren Ormond McKibbens, Cameron County;
Member, Maria E. "Kenna" Ramirez, EliPaso County;
Member, Mildred Knape Witte, Smith County.
Texas School Safety Center Board of Directors:
Member, James M. "Jim" Boyle, Ed.D., Bell County;
Member, Charles Arthur Brawner, Waller County;
Member, Gigi Edwards Bryant, Travis County;
Member, Garry Edward Eoff, Brown County;
Member, Janace Pope Ponder, Potter County;
Member, Lucy Rubio, Nueces County;
Member, Severita Sanchez, Webb County;
Member, Cheryl Lee Shannon, Dallas County;
Member, Jane A. Wetzel, Dallas County.
School Land Board:
Member, David S. Herrmann, Bexar County;
Member, Ted Houghton, Jr., El Paso County.

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