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Friday, February 19, 1999     (512) 463-0300

Texas Senate Review

AUSTIN - The Senate unanimously passed the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 1, the legislation ending social promotion on Thursday, February 18. The bill is designed to reduce the number of children promoted to the next grade level even if they fail the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test. Senators adopted three floor amendments, including one by Dallas Senator Royce West which requires the Texas Commissioner of Education to certify that schools have sufficient funding for the program. The state must provide funding for programs laid out in the bill or schools will not be required to implement them.

Bill sponsor and Education Committee Chair Teel Bivins of Amarillo stated, "These are the children that have consistently not been addressed and with the passage of this legislation we're sending a message, as Governor Bush said, that every child can succeed in Texas."

The bill would begin with the kindergarten class entering school in the fall of 1999. A grade placement committee composed of the child's parent, teacher and principal can override a decision to hold a student back based on the TAAS test. Bivins said that a method of local control is important so the people who know the child best can make the final decision about their future.

In the same day, the Senate Finance Committee passed emergency appropriations legislation which included funding for programs laid out in CSSB 1. Senate Bill (SB) 472 allotted $18 million to train kindergarten teachers to identify and solve reading difficulties early in a student's education. The committee also passed SB 148, sponsored by Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, exempting small businesses from the corporate franchise tax.

The Senate passed two other bills earlier this week, reducing the fine currently on the books for the sale of loose cigarettes to minors (SB15) and authorizing the attorney general to bring suit against an intermediate care facility for the mentally retarded rather than requiring such action (SB380). Currently the attorney general must file a lawsuit if the Texas Department of Human Services requests it. This gives the attorney general's office the option of not bringing a lawsuit if he does not feel it is appropriate.

Health care issues also dominated the week's Senate activities. Senators Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant held a press conference Thursday, February 18, to discuss the takeover of Sensitive Care nursing home facilities. After accusations of medicare fraud, the federal government cut off funding for Sensitive Care. The Texas Department of Human Services stepped in to operate the facilities. Nursing homes in Fort Worth and Richland Hills have closed.

Moncrief and Ratliff said they are angry the State of Texas is left to clean up the problem and take responsibility for nursing home residents without federal funds or assistance. "As a taxpayer it makes my head turn. As an elected official it makes my blood boil," said Moncrief.. He filed SB 597, raising the amount of the nursing and convalescent home trust funds from $5 million to $10 million to handle crisis situations in the future.

On Monday, February 15, Senators Rodney Ellis, Jon Lindsay, John Whitmire, David Bernsen and Mario Gallegos, Jr. representing all or part of Harris County, announced a request for a performance review audit of the Harris County Hospital District. The district provides health care for uninsured Houston residents who are not eligible for medicaid or medicare.

Senators David Sibley of Waco and Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay announced legislation to lower the costs of intrastate long distance telephone calls. Southwestern Bell's current access rates are more than 11 cents and will be reduced in phases to six cents by SB560. Rates could begin dropping as early as this summer if the bill passes.

Governor George W. Bush addressed the Joint Session of the Legislature for Military Appreciation Day on Tuesday, February 16. This is the first Joint Session in Texas' history to celebrate the military. Lt. Governor Rick Perry declared Wednesday, February 17, "Small Business Day" in Texas.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 22, at 1:30 p.m.

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