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April 29, 2005     (512) 463-0300

SENATE PASSES WATER MANAGEMENT, ASBESTOS LAWSUIT REFORM BILLS
Senator Ken Armbrister
Senator Ken Armbrister provides closing remarks on SB3, the Omnibus Water Bill, which passed the Senate today. SB3 would provide an environmentally-conscious water management policy for Texas.

Texas state will move to a more consistent water management policy if a measure passed by the Senate Friday becomes law, according to the author Victoria Senator Ken Armbrister. Senate Bill 3 would begin the implementation of the state's 50-year water plan. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said the passage of this bill is timely, as the state could face a water crisis in the next several years. "With the population doubling by the next 35 years, if we don't double our clean water supplies, the Texas we know and love won't exist in 35 years," said Dewhurst.

SB 3 would empower the Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ) to set aside fresh water to inflow into the state's bays and estuaries in an effort to maintain the health of inter-coastal waterways. The science behind this flow management would be developed by a Texas Environmental Flows Science Advisory Committee, which would be made up by hydrologists and other earth-scientists who would advise TCEQ on the best way to ensure the viability of bays and estuaries. This plan would be suspended in the event of a natural emergency, like a drought, where water resources would be diverted to help human services. "This is the first time in the state's history we have recognized the state's obligation to set aside a volume of water for the protection of the environment," said Armbrister. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) would be directed to create a state-wide conservation awareness program under SB 3.

The bill would also help Texas implement a consistent water management plan across the state by adding more oversight to local water policies. Final decisions for water management will still lie at the local level, but SB 3 would require groundwater conservation districts to submit comprehensive management plans to TWDB for comment. It would also create groundwater management area councils to advise local water management boards. All unincorporated publicly owned land would be administered by a state groundwater conservation district. SB 3 would also require water vendors to report water sales in an effort to determine actual water usage in Texas.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill designed to reduce the number of asbestos and silica lawsuits in the state. Senator Kyle Janek of Galveston says there is too much asbestos litigation in the state, creating a backlog of cases that the courts cannot handle. The end result is that not everyone who is deserving is getting their day in court. Compounding the problem is the current statute that requires an individual who is exposed to silica or asbestos to file a claim within two years after knowledge of exposure. This means that someone could be compelled to file a lawsuit before actual illness develops, which could lead to a much smaller settlement. This money would be needed in the event that actual illness develops.

Senate Bill 15, by Janek, would address these problems by eliminating the two-year statute of limitations, and would only allow individuals who can demonstrate actual impairment to sue for damages. This means that sick individuals will have access to a speedy trial, while those who are exposed but not ill will not forfeit their right to sue. Janek says this bill balances the needs of the exposed and the impaired. "It's going to protect those workers that have been impaired and we're going to protect those workers who have been exposed but are not yet impaired," said Janek.

Senate Committees continued work on the Senate's plan for reforming school finance while reducing property taxes. Committee Substitute to House Bill 2, the Senate plan for school finance reform, is still before the Senate Education Committee. Committee Chair Florence Shapiro says the committee will finish with the bill and its more than 50 amendments by Monday. CSHB 2 would reduce property taxes by a third over the next six years, includes a substantial pay-raise for teachers, and would increase the money the state puts into textbooks and technology allotments.

CSHB 3, which includes the tax component of school finance reform, will be laid out in the Finance Committee on Monday, according to Chairman Steve Ogden. The bill would attempt to make up the money lost by the property tax cut through an expansion of the franchise tax. The details on the bill are still being worked out, but Ogden says the bill will come to the floor sometime next week. "What I want to re-emphasize is that we're going to produce a plan that balances and that is, what I would say, a competent plan that will work," said Ogden. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said he is still confident that both bills will be sent to the House by next Friday or Saturday.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 2, at 1:30 p.m.

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

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