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Monday, February 22, 1999     (512) 463-0300

The Texas State Senate News

AUSTIN - The Texas Senate passed eight bills today including Committee Substitute Senate Joint Resolution (CSSJR) 15 by Arlington Senator Chris Harris and Committee Substitute Senate Bill (CSSB) 345, sponsored by Teel Bivins of Amarillo.

CSSJR15 proposes a constitutional amendment to legitimize the giving of consent by an incapacitated spouse regarding transactions in connection with a homestead. Currently there are ways for a spouse to sign transaction for their incapacitated spouse but a home equity loan refers to the required consent of a spouse, causing lenders to believe that normal consent does not apply to home equity loans. The proposed amendment would come before voters November 2, 1999.

Bivins authored CSSB 345 to address similar problems in legislation passed last session authorizing institutions of higher education to charge students more for taking more than 170 undergraduate semester credit hours. In debate on the Senate floor, Bivins stated that the old bill was difficult to implement and was hard on students caught in the middle of their educational career. He says the new bill gives students more leeway, "You don't want to discourage students from trying things, on the other hand at some point I believe as a matter of policy we need to say we're not going to pay for this anymore."

Senate Bill 345 applies to students beginning college in September 1999 to give them notice of the rules so they can prepare for restrictions in the bill. The new bill also recognizes that some degree plans require more hours than others and uses a floating cap of 45 hours on top of minimum degree requirements for the degree a student is pursuing instead of a set number.

Other legislation passed today included CSSB 166, sponsored by Dallas Senator John Carona, required landlords to re-key the lock of a dwelling before a tenant takes possession of a property. Senate Bill 97, sponsored by Harris, creates the Public Employees Long Term Board and allows all public employees to purchase long-term care insurance through the pool.

In committee action today, Electric Utility Restructuring Committee Chair David Sibley of Waco read a statement today regarding the open government section of Senate Bill 7, the bill opening the electric industry to competition. He says government-owned utilities would be at a competitive disadvantage if private companies, whose records are confidential, had access to their information. Sibley is trying to balance conflicting public interests--the public's right to information against possible higher electricity prices.

He stressed the negative aspects of keeping the records open, "Under this scenario, the privately held company could gain information about their competitor's plans that allow them to drive up the cost of electricity. Under this scenario, consumers would be the losers."

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst testified during the committee meeting in support of an amendment proposed by Bivins. The amendment authorizes the general land office to maximize value from the mineral assets that state of Texas owns by converting the oil and gas into electricity and selling it to retail public customers, institutions of higher education, public school districts, and local government. Dewhurst said that schools profit by getting electricity for a lower price and the profit from selling the electricity goes into the Permanent University Fund. The amendment was left pending.