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March 6, 2007 (512) 463-0300

SENATE PASSES FIRST BILLS OF THE SESSION

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Senator John Carona introduces SB 112, one of the first pieces of Legislation to be passed this Session.

(AUSTIN) -- The Senate voted to approve three bills Tuesday, deciding to suspend rules that prevent non-emergency legislation from being passed in the first sixty days. These three bills are the first non-resolution measures to be passed by the Senate in the 80th Legislature.

Senator John Carona of Dallas passed a bill that would prevent law enforcement officers from confiscating fire arms from lawful owners during times of emergency. He said this legislation stems from concern that during emergencies, such as Hurricane Rita in 2005, gun owners who aren't breaking any laws are having their firearms taken by police without cause. Senate Bill 112 would prohibit this, unless the weapon is evidence in a criminal investigation, or the owner is breaking the law.

A bill tentatively passed today by San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth protects the rights of school employees to complain to their elected officials. Wentworth said he created SB 135 in order to prevent school employees from having their constitutional rights trampled on by being blocked by administrators from talking to school board members. Additionally, he said, Board of Education members could be missing valuable insights from employees who see what is going on in Texas schools first-hand. "Better decisions come from more informed leadership," Wentworth said.

Senate Bill 113, authored by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, would preserve "at-risk" status for foster kids following adoptions for the purposes of pre-kindergarten eligibility. The state provides funds for "at-risk" students to attend pre-k, but Shapiro said that once foster children are adopted, they lose this eligibility.

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Senator Jeff Wentworth sponsored SB 135, which allows public school employees to communicate with members of school district boards of trustees about policy issues.

Also Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources Committee began hearings on Senate Bill 3, which sets a state water plan to meet increasing future water demand in Texas. Committee Chair Kip Averitt said that the state is looking at a water shortage, during drought conditions, of four million acre feet in 2010, and nine million acre feet in 2060 if the state does not implement a water plan.

SB 3 would set requirements for protection of certain rivers and waterways that feed costal estuaries and bays, in order to maintain wildlife populations that live in those areas.

It would implement a number of conservation efforts to shepherd state water resources, including requiring those utilities serving more than 3,300 people to present a water conservation plan to the state for review. The bill would give permitting priority to infrastructure projects that have a conservation plan, and would create a mechanism for reporting of water transactions. It would also create a state water conservation campaign aimed at increasing awareness of the need and methods for saving water.

The most controversial part of the bill is Article 3, which designates 19 sites as possible reservoir sites. Though Averitt says the designation does not necessarily mean reservoirs would be built there, some Senators were concerned how local property values would be affected. Senator Kevin Eltife of Tyler, who has several sites within his district, said he doesn't think its fair because even the announcement of potential sites will drive down property values for those who own land within one of the designated areas. "I almost feel like its Trans-Texas Corridor round two," he said.

The committee did not vote to approve the bill today, instead using the hearing as a development session and also as a chance for Senators to hear testimony from experts as well as the public at large.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 7, at 11 a.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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