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Thursday, March 11, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Legislation offering health insurance for younger Texans through the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, passed unanimously out of the Senate today. The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 445, as amended on the Senate floor, covers minor children of Texans who make too much money to qualify for medicaid but cannot afford health insurance. It focuses on a health plan for certain low income children. In Texas, 1.4 million children or one in four, do not have health insurance.

Bill sponsor Senator Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth said, "It's seldom you're able to do something in this legislative process that's going to affect so many lives. And it's a tremendous responsibility to make sure that you do it right."

Lt. Governor Rick Perry praised the Senate for a bipartisan effort, "The future of our state depends on a generation of children who are safe, who are healthy and well educated. I can think of no better place or I should say no better long term use of the tobacco settlement money than to provide for health coverage for the children of working Texas families."

The federal government will also help the state pay for the program. It provides matching funds, three federal dollars for each state dollar contributed.

Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus say they are tired of tax cuts and want to put kids first. They celebrated the passage of children's health insurance legislation in a press conference today, but said that it is not enough. They hinted that their cooperation in helping pass tax cut legislation for oil and other businesses should be rewarded. Democratic senators say the Legislature should focus their attention--and money-- on issues like higher education, child care and teacher pay. This is not a new message. The Democratic Caucus announced a similar plan in response to the Governor's State of the State Address.

Senator John Whitmire of Houston said, "Today we're reiterating, and probably more forcefully saying enough is enough for other cuts and programs until we address the children's problems." Whitmire says he expects Republican Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo to announce tax cut legislation soon.

Teachers could be getting a bonus under legislation Bivins filed today creating a Master Reader Teacher program. Senate Bill (SB) 3, which has strong support from Perry, rewards specially trained reading teachers with a state-funded bonus of up to $7000 a year.

After a long debate, the Senate passed CSSB 306 making it more difficult for people convicted of a felony to get out on bail while waiting to appeal their case. Some senators did not think they should take away a judge's discretion through legislation. Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville sponsored the bill. The Senate also passed SB 262 as amended requiring that a municipality reimburse landowners or developers prior to the effective date of annexation for existing public improvements. In cases of dispute, the money would be kept in escrow until the amount is verified. Senator J.E. Buster Brown of Lake Jackson sponsored the bill. The only city that would be affected by the measure is the City of Austin.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 15 at 1:30 p.m.

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