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March 27, 2009 (512) 463-0300

WEEK IN REVIEW

(AUSTIN) — The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would cap the number of automatic admissions to state universities under the top-ten percent rule. The legislation was spurred by complaints from officials at the University of Texas at Austin, who say the rule that grants automatic admission to high-schoolers that graduate in the top ten percent of their class to a state college of their choice has filled incoming classes almost entirely with students admitted under this rule. UT officials estimate 81 percent of the 2008 incoming freshman class were top ten percent students, and worry that soon it will be the only criterion under which students get into the university.

SB 175, by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, would cap admissions under the top ten rule at 60 percent of an incoming class. The remainder of students would be admitted using a holistic review process. Shapiro said this will give admissions officers more flexibility in picking who gets in and who doesn't. "Fifty percent of the students will still come in under the top-ten percent rule, but it opens up that window for more students to come in under other qualifiers besides being only in the top ten percent," she said.

The bill was amended by Senators Steve Ogden and Eddie Lucio to include a scholarship program for poorer students that graduate in the top ten percent. The amendments would permit a top-ten student who demonstrates need to receive a full-tuition scholarship to a state university. The bill now heads to the House for further consideration.

Tuesday, the Senate Government Organization Committee looked at a bill that would continue the operation of the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) for another 12 years. The bill, SB 1007 by Senator Glenn Hegar of Katy, would also make a number of reforms at the agency. These reforms include more clear regulations surrounding the state's file-and-use system of approving insurance rate changes. Currently, companies may submit rate change requests to the agency, but then go ahead and use those rates while officials consider them. Hegar advocated in favor of this system, saying it offers the right amount of protection to consumers. "Regulation may be beneficial to consumers when the correct things are monitored," he said. "Ensuring that a company can cover its claims is chief among these. File-and-use provides for this type of oversight and therefore the right kind of regulation."

The standards for accepting rate changes are unclear, said Hegar, and lead to lengthy negotiations before the changes are approved. His bill aims to streamline this process, and would require TDI to approve rate change requests within 30 days. It would also require preferred provider organizations to be licensed by the state, and would rearrange the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association board of directors to get tax-exempt status for that agency. The bill remains before the committee as Senators consider a number of proposed amendments to the measure.

Senators on the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill intended to make group health insurance more affordable for small business owners and employees. The measure was spurred by a 2007 TDI report that found only 32 percent of businesses with 50 or fewer employees offer group health insurance, largely because of the high cost of premiums. SB 6, by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, seeks to decrease risk and increase predictability in the small business insurance market and drive down premiums. The bill would create a reinsurance fund that would reimburse insurers for up to 80 percent of a claim ranging between $5,000 and $75,000. Businesses would be eligible to get insurance under the measure if they have fewer than 50 employees, with about a third of employees at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The bill remains pending before the committee.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 30 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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