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Monday, March 15, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Disagreements over building in Boerne have sparked new legislation from the Texas Senate. The dispute between the city and a church over whether a historic chapel could be changed, has led to the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 138.

The law would require a "compelling interest," such as protection of citizens' health or safety, before an agency can limit the free exercise of religion in Texas. Waco Senator David Sibley sponsored the bill and said a diverse group of organizations from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Christian Coalition support the bill.

Earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a federal law with similar provisions was unconstitutional, but despite the federal ruling, states can add to constitutional rights. In that case, the city of Boerne prohibited a local church from building a new addition because of city ordinances that protected a historical district.

Sibley also sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 427 to increase the penalty for the direct shipment of alcohol into Texas. He says direct shipment gives minors easier access to alcohol and cheats the state out of tax money.

Legislation to keep minors from checking themselves out of drug treatment facilities passed the Senate. Under CSSB 44, parents who check their children into drug treatment must give consent for their release. That was one of two bills in Plano Senator Florence Shapiro's plan to combat illegal drugs that passed in the Senate today. CSSB 42 allows schools to set up a drug testing program to test students at a parent's request. Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos voted against the bill, along with Senator Mario Gallegos Jr. of Galena Park. Both senators questioned why the legislation was necessary when parents can drug test their children on their own.

Teachers may be out of the classroom for spring break but they are still working--supporting legislation to improve classroom conditions and fighting for teacher pay at the State Capitol. A group of teachers joined Houston Senator John Whitmire in the Senate Chamber today, as he announced legislation allowing teachers to punish unruly students with non corporal punishment without being punished themselves.

The Classroom Discipline Act laid out in SB1213 is intended to protect teachers and help them regain authority in the classroom--authority Whitmire says they have lost over the past 10 years, "Quite often you get an intolerable situation in a classroom and an abusive disruptive student and who ends up in the end getting reprimanded, not the student but the teacher, and that's what we're trying to bring a halt to through this legislation."

Former Lt. Governor Bob Bullock will have a museum in his name if legislation passed today makes it to the governor's desk. CSSB 494 establishes the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Bullock was recognized for his public service and dedication to Texas for more than four decades. The legislation also gives authority to the State Preservation Board to restore the historic Pease Mansion in Austin.

The Senate adjourned today in memory of Mark Kilroy of Santa Fe, Texas. Kilroy, a UT student, was murdered ten years ago in Mexico while vacationing in South Padre during spring break.

The Senate reconvenes tomorrow, March 16, at 10:00 a.m.

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