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February 22, 2007 (512) 463-0300

AVERITT FILES WATER OMNIBUS BILL

(AUSTIN) Citing the state's increasing population and water demand, Natural Resources Committee Chair Kip Averitt announced Thursday the filing of a bill that would create comprehensive state-wide directives for water use and conservation in Texas. Averitt was joined in support by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who said the state needs to address its water resource problem sooner rather than later. "If we don't acquire new water resources, the face of Texas will change," he said. "We need new water resources, and need to hang on to the water resources we have."

PHOTO
Senator Kip Averitt lays out his plan to prepare for increasing water demands as Texas moves into the future. He is joined by (L-to-R) Rep. Robert Puente, Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.

Senate Bill 3 in many ways resembles last session's comprehensive water bill that failed to get legislative approval. It has the same requirements for a science-based environmental flows policy to protect estuaries and bays, as well as many of the same conservation standards. Gone, however, is a controversial new fee structure to pay for water development that may have hindered the bill's passage last session. Dewhurst said lawmakers are still working on the estimated $675 million needed over the next 40 years for critical water infrastructure, but that the first $80 million needed this biennium will come from general revenue.

Averitt said this bill focuses on conservation measures, including requiring certain public utilities to generate conservation plans, and better oversight over water transfers, because that is the most practical way to protect water resources in Texas. "We all recognize that conservation is our best opportunity to meet water needs for the future," he said. "It's the biggest bang for the buck, and it's the place that everyone can contribute to the cause."

Another provision of SB3 is the designation of 17 sites across the state as potential reservoir sites, though both Averitt and Dewhurst were quick to point out that does not mean the state is ready to build these reservoirs in the near future. Rather, they said, designating these areas now will set the framework for the debate on how many reservoirs the state will need in the future, and where those reservoirs will be built.

Three bills were filed this week as part of the Lt. Governor's child safety and welfare package. Senate Bill 7, filed by McAllen Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa would mandate that every school in Texas be equipped with an automatic external defibrillator and that at least one staffer be trained in its use. These devices are designed to be used by laymen, and use automated processes to determine the appropriate amount of electrical shock to administer to restore proper heart functions. Dewhurst said that the $16 million cost of purchasing and training will likely be offset by private donations. These devices, he said, are important for protecting students at school and at sporting events. "The bottom line is this: AEDs save lives. Any trained employee will be able to do it," he said.

Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would stiffen penalties for individuals who send sexually explicit messages or solicit minors using the Internet, and would create a centralized database to record these crimes. In these cases, SB 6 would allow prosecutors to seek consecutive prison sentences for online sex crimes against children.

Senator Florence Shapiro, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, filed SB 9, a bill which would require background checks for teachers, administrators, support staff, and any other person that works at a public school. Shapiro said parents have an expectation of safety for their kids when they send them off to school, and the state should do what it can to ensure that safety. "Parents, when they send their children to school, are under the assumption that teachers and the people at the school are safe, and that their children are at a safe haven," she said. "Unfortunately, as we start looking into the backgrounds of some of the teachers and some of the people who are in the school system, we find that they are predators, and they have records that we don't know about." The bill would also create a background check database to prevent teachers and other employees with records from moving from school to school without the administrators' or parents' knowledge of their past.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 26, 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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