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April 3, 2007 (512) 463-0300

SENATE APPROVES MEASURES TO LIMIT TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR, RED LIGHT CAMERA

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Recipients of the Texas Medal of Arts were honored Tuesday on the Senate Floor.

(AUSTIN) -- The Senate passed Tuesday four bills aimed at two different yet controversial issues: the Trans Texas Corridor and red light cameras. Senate Bill 718, by Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan, would require the Texas Department of Transportation to utilize existing routes for Trans Texas Corridor projects whenever possible. If TxDOT must use another route, the bill would require them to notify the Legislature within ten days.

The second bill, Senate Bill 1795, is not necessarily directed at Trans Texas Corridor construction, but would give the state more room to issue bonds for future transportation projects. One of the most divisive issues surrounding the Trans Texas Corridor is the use of public/private partnerships that critics say are not appropriately accountable or transparent and that give away state control of public projects. SB 1795 would double the amount of bonds, from $3 billion to $6 billion, that the Texas Transportation Commission could use in order to build new roads.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said that this bill will tell TxDOT that it has other options when it comes to transportation funding. "Senate Bill 1795 sends a strong message to TxDOT that we have additional revenues here in Texas, and while I believe there is a legitimate role for public/private investments in roads here in Texas, we ought to make sure, when possible ,to use state funds and build highways as economical as possible," he said.

The other two bills, Senate Bills 125 and 1119, are aimed at automated cameras placed at traffic intersections to catch traffic law violators. There has been much debate over the past years as to the role these cameras should play, and how much fines should be, and who should get that money. Tuesday's measures would answer those questions.

The bills cap fines for violations captured on red-light cameras at $75, and would split the money in half, sending half of the net revenue to the state for trauma care costs in the region where the fines were collected, and the other half could be used by the city to improve public safety. The bills would also require cities to conduct an engineering study at an intersection before placing a red light camera there, in order to show that the camera is necessary to improve safety at the crossing.

Senator John Carona, who authored both bills and chairs the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committees, said that it is important that the state ensure that these cameras are used as a means to improve safety and not just another way for cities to make money. "I really do think that we are ensuring that these cameras will end up only in places where they provide public good, and that they're not merely means to create an electronic speed trap." he said.

Health and Human Services Chair Jane Nelson laid out a bill before her committee Tuesday that she says would help Texas reduce the share of its budget that goes toward health care while covering more of the uninsured. Nelson said that if projections for health care costs in the future are accurate, Texas must change or face serious problems with its health care system. "We cannot continue to run our Medicaid program as it is," she said. "It will break us."

Certain provisions in Senate Bill 10 focus on reducing medical costs through preventative care. It would authorize increased benefits for those who enroll in smoking cessation and weight loss programs, and to patients who follow disease management guidelines. Tailored health benefit packages would allow custom care for certain groups, including the elderly, disabled, and working parents. The bill would also create a health savings account pilot program to look at the impact and effectiveness of private health care accounts.

The bill would use state and federal funds to create an indigent health care fund, called the Texas Health Opportunity Pool intended to increase coverage for uninsured and offset the cost of uncompensated care for hospitals. SB 10 also seeks to increase health care coverage by paying for insurance premiums for employees who have access to group insurance programs at work, as long as those premiums are less than the cost of Medicaid.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 4 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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