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Thursday, March 18, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - The Texas Senate is getting tougher on drunk drivers. Legislation passed today includes lowering the legal blood alcohol content, raising the penalties for refusal of the breath/blood tests, and harsher penalties for minors in possession of alcohol.

The first measure passed was Senate Bill (SB) 114, sponsored by Galena Park Senator Mario Gallegos Jr. Senators voted unanimously in favor of lowering the legal blood alcohol content from .10 to .08 percent. In debate on the Senate floor, Gallegos stated, "Although there is no amount of funding that can erase the pain and sorrow a person feels when they lose a loved one during a drunk driving accident, this legislation is one step that this body can take to try to reduce the level of traffic fatalities that plague our great state." Efforts to lower the blood alcohol content have failed in the past. Senators say support from the governor and the lt. governor made this time different.

Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. sponsored SB 388 which increases the penalty for refusing to take a breath/blood test to five days in jail and an automatic one-year license suspension. Currently, Texas law requires a term of confinement for 72 hours and license suspension for 90 days. Lucio says increased penalties could help catch more drunk drivers. Dallas Senator Royce West sponsored SB 528 which increases the consequences for minors possessing or using alcohol.

Lt. Governor Rick Perry, a strong supporter of the legislation, said, "Today the Texas Senate sent a clear, very unmistakable message, to the people of the state: if you're going to drive drunk, you're going to pay a penalty and a stiff penalty in the State of Texas." Perry added that the safety of Texas streets and $26 million in federal transportation funds are other good reasons to support the legislation.

Parental notification legislation for minors who want an abortion passed its final hurdle in the Senate and is on its way to the Texas House. The Senate added an amendment to help protect doctors from prosecution if a minor uses a fake I.D. to prove they're old enough to avoid telling their parents. The Senate passed the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 30 with the amendment by West.

Property tax relief and a teacher pay raise could be on the way under Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins' school finance plan. Lt. Governor Perry and Senators Bill Ratliff, Jane Nelson, and Steve Ogden joined Bivins at a press conference announcing the legislation. The $2000 dollar pay raise for teachers is far from the $6000 dollars many are asking for, but Ratliff, who serves as the Finance Committee chair, says it is the best they can do for now, "It's not enough. We'd love to do more but there are realities and the teachers in my district that I talked to about a $2000 dollar take home that they didn't have before, I got some very good reactions." Bivins filed SB 4 today, and says the bill is a work in progress.

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

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