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Thursday, April 1, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - The Senate heard legislation Monday that will affect Texas pick-up truck drivers' ability to transport children in the back of their trucks on public roads. The bill prohibits children up to the age of 18 from riding in an open bed of a truck or a trailer at any speed. Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 411, saying "This bill just makes sense that we should not allow kids to ride in the back of a pick-up and subject themselves to injury."

The bill includes exceptions for transporting farm workers and children when a pick-up truck is the only source of transportation for a household. The bill finally passed on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, two state senators passed legislation trying to prevent the Y2K computer glitch from becoming a courtroom disaster. Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay says he does not know exactly what problems may arise, but hopes the legislation he is sponsoring can help prepare Texans, "It's a problem that grows literally with each hour of each passing day and depending on whom you talk to it could either lead to a worldwide calamity of epic proportions or it simply could turn out to be one of the most over hyped events ever known."

Committee Substitute for Senate Bill(CSSB) 598 encourages computer companies to address possible Y2K problems before a failure occurs. The bill exempts computer manufacturers from lawsuits when they attempt to find solutions and pass them on to consumers. The bill also mandates a statewide web site and toll-free numbers to provide information about Y2K computer problems and solutions. Lubbock Senator Robert L. Duncan co sponsored the bill.

Assaulting a mother-to-be would become a felony under CSSB 188. The bill creates an offense for causing bodily injury to a pregnant woman, with increased penalties if the woman suffers a miscarriage or stillbirth. Bryan Senator Steve Ogden sponsored the measure and fielded questions about whether this bill might be an anti-abortion measure in disguise. Ogden said no, and that his intentions are clear. The bill passed to engrossment on Tuesday, with final passage on Wednesday.

Other Senate business on Tuesday included passage of SB 460, sponsored by Victoria Senator Ken Armbrister, which allows an oral confession to a police officer to be admissible in court finally passed the Senate. A floor amendment calmed many senators' fears about potential abuses by police officers. Dallas Senator Royce West sponsored the amendment to restore language which requires a video or audio recording of any oral statement for it to be admissible in court. It also allows an oral confession to be admitted without a recording when used only to impeach an alibi witness. In other words, if an alibi witness lies on the stand, an oral confession to a police officer can be used against them in some circumstances. Lt. Governor Rick Perry believes the bill will allow police officers more freedom, "It tightens a loophole in the law providing another tool to keep criminals off our streets and behind bars."

Local governments will not be able to sue gun makers without approval from the Legislature if SB 717 becomes law. Bill sponsor Senator Jon Lindsay of Houston, says that if a lawsuit is going to be filed, it should be on behalf of the whole state. Lindsay says he is trying to stop a national trend that could significantly increase gun prices, "I think this is kind of a back door way for the anti-gun people to put the gun business, the gun industry totally out of business."

Originally, the Texas attorney general was among those prohibited from filing lawsuits. The provision drew opposition from most senators. Senators added a floor amendment allowing the attorney general to file suit on behalf of the state or any other governmental unit. The amendment was not enough to satisfy all the members. Some senators say the Legislature should not choose who has the right to sue, they say it should be a local decision. Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos spoke against the bill, "The bill is out of control. It's bad legislation. They're going to be putting lipstick and earrings and perfume on it, but it's still an ugly bill."

Houston Senator Rodney Ellis sponsored SB 411, sales tax relief, which passed out of the Finance Committee on Wednesday. The $250 million dollar package exempts diapers and over-the-counter medicine for children. It also creates a 14 day sales tax holiday on shoes and clothing in August. The bill mirrors a tax cut proposal outlined by Governor George W. Bush during his 1998 campaign.

Lt. Governor Rick Perry celebrated the session's halfway mark by reviewing the Senate's accomplishments, stating, "As of last Friday the Senate has accomplished more this session than any legislative session in the past decade. When it comes to hard work and dedication and I might add bipartisan cooperation, this Senate has excelled."

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, April 6 at 10:00 a.m.

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