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Thursday, March 4, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Money from the state's tobacco settlement could be going to a good cause--health insurance for children. Legislation offering health insurance for younger Texans through the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, passed out of the Health Services Committee. The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 445 focuses on a health plan for certain low income children. The plan insures children of families earning up to 200 percent of poverty level--that's about $34,600 for a family of four-- for children up to ten years old. Children between the ages of 11 and 18 qualify if their families are at 150 percent of the poverty level. The bill's sponsor, Senator Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth said close to 400,000 children would qualify for the program.

Lt. Governor Rick Perry says he wants the program to use tobacco settlement money, now . . . and in the future, "The Children's Health Insurance Program should get the first bite of the apple when it comes to tobacco settlement money in the future."

The federal government will also help the state pay for the program. They provide matching funds, providing three federal dollars for each state dollar contributed. Twenty-two other senators have signed on to co-sponsor the bill.

In a press conference today, Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins outlined his school voucher proposal. It gives certain students living in the six largest Texas counties the choice to attend private schools with public money. Under Senate Bill (SB) 10, students would have to meet a list of requirements to be eligible. They must have low TAAS scores, be in the free or reduced lunch program, and not be enrolled in a private school during the current or prior school year. About 149,000 students would be eligible. Private schools would get 80% of the total amount of state and local public school funding for the student's education.

Bivins says the five-year program will be an opportunity to test a new approach to education, "What I do know is if there were ever an endeavor that mankind has engaged in that ought to embrace the scientific method and be willing just to try and experiment, to test a theory, its education."

In committee action today, the daughter of the late James Byrd Jr., who was the victim of a racially-motivated murder in Jasper, Texas, testified in support of hate crimes legislation. Renee Mullins pledged her support and urged senators in the State Affairs Committee to support legislation by Senator Royce West of Dallas which establishes a Texas Human Rights Protection Act. SB 439 would provide civil remedies to victims of hate crimes.

A bill opening the electric market to competition will be brought up in two weeks by Waco Senator David Sibley. Due to the bill's length and complexity, the Senate will only accept amendments up to 48 hours before the bill reaches the floor.

In session today, the Senate passed legislation by Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock which disqualifies a person convicted of theft from serving on a grand jury. SB 217 also extends the age limit so a person is subject to grand jury service through the age of 70.

The Senate also passed a resolution honoring Lt. Governor Rick Perry's birthday. He's 49.

The Senate will reconvene at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, March 8, 1999.

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