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April 17, 2003    (512) 463-0300

Week in Review

Ensuring Justice Prevails

Legislation aimed at ensuring that death row inmates are afforded one full and fair opportunity to have their habeas corpus and unfairness claims heard by the courts won final approval of the full Senate Wednesday. Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, sponsor of Senate Bill (SB) 1224, said that his legislation will help to ease some of the fears that Texans have about our criminal justice system.

SB 1224 moves the appointment of counsel in habeas cases to the Task Force on Indigent Defense, comprised of five members selected by the governor and eight elected officials and judges. Habeas Corpus is the only appeal in which an inmate can raise new evidence of his or her innocence and it is intended to be a "safety net" designed to catch the innocent and those treated unfairly by the system. The bill also outlines the criteria that the Task Force should consider in developing standards for lawyers eligible for appointment.

Competency Bill Passed

The Senate approved legislation Tuesday that deals with the termination and restoration of competency to stand trial. SB 1057, sponsored by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, would rewrite the criminal competency statute to streamline the process and ensure consistency in its application across the state.

Duncan said that his bill gives the court two choices if a defendant is determined to be incompetent. If the charges are not dismissed, the person will be ordered by the district court to be confined or sent to a secure facility if they are a danger to themselves or others. If the prosecutors choose to dismiss the charges, the district court will refer the case to a probate court, which will use statutory procedures to commit the person in the event they are a danger to themselves or others.

Same-Sex Unions Banned

Legislation referred to as the Defense of Marriage Act passed by a 24-7 vote Tuesday. According to the bill's author, San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, SB 7 establishes a policy in Texas that marriage is between one man and one woman and that Texas will not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages that are entered into in other states.

One of the main arguments against the bill was that it is unnecessary. The two main objectors to the bill, Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and Houston Senator John Whitmire, pointed out that same-sex marriages are already prohibited under current law and that a Beaumont court case recently confirmed that Texas does not recognize other states' civil unions.

Campaign Contribution Restrictions Approved

SB 244, passed Monday by the Senate, would place restrictions on when statewide officeholders, legislators, and their campaigns can accept contributions. Under the legislation authored by Dallas Senator Royce West, the period during which they could not accept campaign contributions spans the thirty days prior to a regular session through the twenty day period afterward in which the governor considers whether to sign or veto legislation from the session.

Offering Insurance Choices

Legislation that The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams says may lower the cost of health insurance for Texans by twelve to eighteen percent was approved by the full Senate Tuesday. SB 541 would allow insurers and health maintenance organizations to choose which state-mandated health benefits to offer in their policies. Williams said that his bill will offer more affordable options for families and small businesses. Most large companies can already choose what coverages to offer because their insurance policies are governed only by federal law and are not subject to state mandates, according to Williams.

Life-threatening Restraints Prohibited

Restraints that obstruct the airway, impair breathing by putting pressure on the torso, or interfere with the ability to communicate would not be allowed under legislation sanctioned by the Senate Wednesday. SB 59, authored by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would prohibit these types of life-threatening restraints and seclusion on patients in treatment facilities. Zaffirini said that her bill will protect persons made vulnerable by disability, age, sickness, or disease that enter a facility to receive care and heal from being subjected to humiliating and dangerous treatment.

Assisting Sexual Assault Victims

The Senate approved of another measure by Zaffirini aimed at assisting in recovery for victims of sexual assault. SB 51 would require law enforcement agencies to provide victims with written information about local sexual assault services that are available if the local rape crisis centers provide the written materials.

Neglect of Young, Elderly, Disabled Made Criminal

Legislation aimed at protecting the young, elderly, and disabled from neglect was ratified by the Senate Wednesday as well. It would become a criminal offense to abandon or endanger a child, or an elderly or disabled individual under SB 827, proposed by Houston Senator John Whitmire.

Education Legislation Backed by Senate

The Senate approved of legislation Tuesday that would require school districts to implement policies detailing the appropriate use of a school counselor's time. SB 251, by Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, would adopt a policy on the appropriate use of counselors and defines the role of counselors in the test assessment process.

The Senate passed additional education legislation, authored by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, that would allow school districts to offer term contracts the first year a principal is employed with the district if the individual already has experience as a principal.

Additional Legislation Passed by the Senate This Week:

Nominees Confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Commissioner of Insurance:
Jose O. Montemayor, Travis County
Texas Funeral Service Commission:
Presiding Officer, Harry M. Whittington, Travis County
Texas Funeral Service Commission:
Member, Martha Greenlaw, Harris County
Member, Janice B. Howard, Fort Bend County
Correctional Managed Health Care Committee:
Member, James Dale Griffin, M.D., Dallas County
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Board:
Member, Jesus H. Bautista, El Paso County
Member, Gene Iran Brooks, Ph.D., Williamson County
Member, Donna Florence Vaden Clopton, Titus County
Member, Otilio "Toby" Galindo, Tom Green County
Member, Deborah Louder, Tom Green County
Member, Frankie D. Swift, Nacogdoches County
Member, Mary Sue Welch, Dallas County
Member, Jamie Lou Wheeler, Tarrant County
Texas Strategic Military Planning Commission:
Member, Samuel Loyd Neal, Jr., Nueces County
Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners:
Member, Sheng Ting "Sam" Chen, Travis County
Member, Hoang Xiong Ho, Bexar County
Member, Terry Glenn Rascoe, M.D., Bell County
On-site Wastewater Treatment Research Council:
Member, Therese M. Baer, P.E., Travis County
Member, Barry D. Bedwell, Randall County
Member, John R. Blount, Harris County
Member, Sandra A. Cararas, Hidalgo County
Member, Franz Kunkel Hiebert, Travis County
Member, Kosse Kyle Maykus, Tarrant County
Member, Charles Montel Rutledge, Brazos County
Member, James W. "Jim" Spence, Travis County
Member, Timothy N. Taylor, Nacogdoches County
Member, Cynthia D. Williams, Ector County
Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation Board of Directors:
Member, Tommy James Brooks, Fort Bend County
Member, Ruben E. Esquivel, Dallas County
Member, Morgan William Howard, Brazos County
Member, Grace A. Shore, Gregg County
Risk Management Board:
Member, Ronald D. Beals, M.D., Smith County
Member, Martha A. Rider, Harris County
Public Counsel for the Office of Public Insurance Counsel:
Roderick A. "Rod" Bordelon, Jr., Travis County
Texas State Board of Examiners of Dietitians:
Member, Carol Barnett Davis, Dallas County
Member, Janet Suzanne Hall, Williamson County
Member, Claudia L. Lisle, Randall County

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