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April 11, 2003    (512) 463-0300

Week in Review

Appropriations Process

The Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini reported on Thursday that they are increasingly optimistic that the Senate will pass an appropriations bill to fund all essential services. They said that they are working hard to preserve funding for core programs, such as children's health insurance, Medicaid, public education, higher education, prisons, and mental health and mental retardation, so that the vulnerable in our society are not at risk. Dewhurst and Zaffirini both met with disabled visitors in the Capitol to hear their concerns on funding health and human services programs.

The Senate Finance Committee met this week to consider workgroup budget recommendations for agencies classified under the following articles: Public Safety and Criminal Justice, Higher Education and Public Education, General Provisions, and Health and Human Services.

Rainy Day Fund is the "Right" Approach

Former Senator John N. Leedom sent a letter to the Lieutenant Governor's office Thursday assuring him that it is the "right" approach to use the Rainy Day Fund to assist in balancing the budget. Leedom helped create the legislation that created the Economic Stabilization Fund, which is commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund. Dewhurst explained that the fund was established to create a cash reserve in the event that actual revenues received by the state in the biennium are less than the amount previously anticipated by the Comptroller of Public Accounts, which is exactly the current situation. Zaffirini stood by Dewhurst, saying that the majority of the Senators believe that it is time to dip into the fund.

Combating Drop-Outs

The Senate approved of two measures authored by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro on Monday that she said will aggressively and actively work to prevent Texas students from dropping out by providing individualized attention and creating incentives for students at-risk of dropping out. SB 976 would establish a Middle College Education Pilot Program which combines high school and college level course work and allows students to receive a high school diploma and associate degree upon completion of the program. The bill would also provide at-risk students with flexible scheduling and mentor programs and allow the Commissioner of Education to impose sanctions on districts that have been rated as academically unacceptable due to high dropout rates.

SB 1108, also sponsored by Senator Shapiro, would provide personal graduation plans for struggling high school students and require the development of an on-line diagnostic assistance program to help students prepare for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills 11th grade exit-level exam.

Keeping Registered Sex Offenders Out of the Classroom

Shapiro said that the passage of SB 1109 will ensure the further protection of Texas schoolchildren. Her bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Thursday, would immediately remove a convicted sex offender whose victim is under the age of eighteen from any contact with students and revoke the convicted educator's teacher certification to prevent them from teaching again. According to Shapiro, a recent search uncovered that sixty-seven certified educators were listed in the Department of Public Safety's registered sex offenders, unknown to the State Board for Educator Certification, who licences educators.

Minute of Silence, Pledges Mandated in Schools

Under legislation passed by a 27-4 vote of the Senate on Wednesday, Texas public school students would be required to start their day by reciting the pledges of allegiance to the United States and Texas flags followed by a minute of silence. Sponsor of SB 83, San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, explained that a student may use the sixty seconds for silent prayer, meditation, or reflection. The bill includes an opt-out provision that would require a school to excuse a student from reciting the pledge upon written request from the student's parent or guardian.

Teacher Paperwork Reduction Act

Legislation authored by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini that she said will give teachers more time to teach was successfully passed by the Senate Thursday. According to Zaffirini, SB 13 would limit the amount of paperwork required of public school teachers to only essential reports related to the health, safety, or welfare of a student; grades; academic progress; attendance and their teaching ability.

Corporate Integrity Legislation Approved

Thursday the Senate approved of the second bill in a three-part series aimed at addressing the issue of corporate integrity and supported by Attorney General Greg Abbott . SB 1059, sponsored by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, would create a Corporate Integrity Unit within the Attorney General's Office to assist in the investigation and prosecution of corporate crime and to serve as a clearinghouse for information. The legislation would also require companies that do business with the state to reveal any financial irregularities, submit to regular audits, and face penalties for violations to the state.

Making Insurance More Affordable, Accessible

Waco Senator Kip Averitt said that legislation approved by the full Senate on Wednesday "goes a long way towards progressing the needs of the working people of Texas so that they and their employers can afford health insurance in the private sector." SB 10 would allow small businesses to form group health cooperatives in order to obtain health coverage for employees with benefits similar to those large business enjoy. The bill would provide tax incentives for insurance companies that chose to participate and would effectively lower the cost of insurance for small employers, according to Averitt.

Other legislation passed by the Senate this week:

Nominees Confirmed by the Senate on April 9, 2003

Commission on Human Rights:
Member, ThomasiM. Anderson, Fort Bend County Member, Tivy Whitlock, Bexar County Member, NilaiT. Wipf, Cameron County
Texas Lottery Commission:
Member, JamesiA. Cox,iJr., Travis County
The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents:
Member, Erle Allen Nye, Dallas County
Member, John David White, Harris County
Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners:
President, Sandra Lee Jensen,iD.C., Dallas County
Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners:
Member, Marcia Olivia Daughtrey, Smith County
Member, Paul Hinton Dickerson,iJ.D.,iC.P.A., Brazoria County
Member, David Alan Sime, El Paso County
Commission on Jail Standards:
Member, GonzaloiR. Gallegos, Bexar County
Member, David Gutierrez, Lubbock County
Member, Horace Theodore Montgomery, Moore County
Member, Michael M. Seale,iM.D., Harris County
Office of Rural Community Affairs Executive Committee:
Member, WallaceiG. Klussmann, Llano County
Member, Lydia Rangel Saenz, Dimmit County
Member, Michael Cooper Waters, Taylor County
Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse:
Member, Beverly Barron, Ector County
Member, JohniF. Longoria, Nueces County
Texas Commission for the Blind:
Presiding Officer, C.iRobert Keeney,iJr., Harris County
Texas Commission for the Blind:
Member, Lars Andreas Anderson, Denton County
Member, Ann Elizabeth Lemke,iPh.D., El Paso County
Member, CharlesiA. Siburt, Taylor County
Texas School Safety Center Board of Directors:
Member, James Richard Pendell, El Paso County
Member, Janace Pope Ponder, Potter County
Member, Lucy Rubio, Nueces County
Member, Severita Sanchez, Webb County
Member, Cheryl Lee Shannon, Dallas County

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