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April 16, 1999     (512) 463-0300
Excavation site of the Texas History Museum
Members of the Texas Senate pictured with the former Lt. Governor Bob Bullock and current Lt. Governor Rick Perry in the excavation site of the Texas History Museum. Legislation is pending to name the museum for Bullock.

TEXAS SENATORS VIEW MUSEUM SITE

AUSTIN--Texas students could be taking the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test more often under the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 103. Currently, students must pass the TAAS exit tests to graduate from high school. The test is supposed to measure whether students are academically prepared for the future.

Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo sponsored the bill. "This is the test that we initially created to show Texans that a high school degree means something. Well, really under current law all it means is that you can work at a minimum 10th grade skills level. By moving this test to the 11th grade we're going to improve credibility and accountability in public education in Texas," said Bivins.

Bivins hopes the 10th grade TAAS tests will now help students prepare for the 11th grade TAAS exit tests. The tests will also be broader, including questions on science and social studies. The tests would change in the 2002-2003 school year.

The Clean Air Act could be coming back to haunt businesses that were created before the 1971 air quality standards. Under legislation passed Tuesday, April 13 the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission would have the authority to give those companies who have not yet complied with the new standards a voluntary emissions reduction permit. Businesses that do not volunteer for air quality permits under this bill could face harsher consequences from the next Legislature. Lake Jackson Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown sponsored CSSB 766. He says the bill gives businesses two years to catch up. "After 2001 these opportunities end and the Legislature will decide in the next session what to do with those who are not getting the message and who do not listen to this Legislature and choose not to be permitted well, then they will be dealt with by the next Legislature." Bill opponents claim the voluntary permits are not tough enough. Corpus Christi Senator Carlos F. Truan says the bill is not in the public's interest. "I understand that economic development, jobs and benefits go hand in hand but I submit to you we only have so much air we breathe every day. We don't manufacture that like we do other things and I submit to you that we need to protect it," said Truan.

The Senate passed the bill banning prizes from eight-liner machines. Texas law allows amusement machines, but the line between amusement and gambling is unclear. Waco Senator David Sibley sponsors CSSB 970, and says eight liners are now being operated as casino machines and have crossed the line. "If you want to play the machine for a quarter, push a button and play that's fine. It's when you start redeeming stuff and winning prizes that's illegal. And that's the practice that they presently have," said Sibley.

Part of a legislative package to stop and punish gang activity in Texas passed out of the Senate this week. Two bills will help officials fight gangs at the local level. Senate Bill (SB)1576 requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to notify local officials when the most violent gang members are released from prison. A companion measure, SB 1577 would require gang awareness training for parole officers who supervise gang members. SB 1579 makes it an offense to solicit a person to become or continue to be a gang member. Lt. Governor Rick Perry says it is one of the most important packages of legislation for Texas youth.

Legislation that could reduce the cost of a long distance call within Texas passed out of the Senate. CSSB 560 would lower local access charges; the fees Southwestern Bell charges long distance companies to connect in-state long distance calls. Southwestern Bell's current rates are more than 11 cents a minute and would be reduced in phases to half or less. The bill will extend a cap on local rates to the year 2005.

In committee action this week, people with mental retardation could be exempted from the death penalty under legislation heard in the Criminal Justice Committee. Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston sponsors SB 326. He says this does not mean they should not be punished, but that their mental capacity should be taken into consideration during sentencing. "I think that in a state where we have over 500 people on death row, we lead the world in the number of executions, the least we can do is be humane about executing people who are mentally retarded," said Ellis. Those arguing against the bill say the current law already allows juries to take those factors into consideration when deciding whether to give the death penalty.

More tax credits for businesses passed out of the Finance Committee. CSSB 5 offers a research and development tax credit and targets needy areas. The bill is intended to encourage companies to invest in Texas. Part of the package includes a tax credit for investing in strategic investment areas, including 92 counties with above average unemployment and below state average income located mostly along the Border and in East Texas. Sibley says that economic development in these regions will strengthen the entire state.

Better roads for the Border and quick financing for NAFTA projects are the goals of Lt. Governor Rick Perry, Border Senators Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi, Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, and members of the Texas Transportation Commission. They announced a plan on Thursday, April 15, to speed up Border transportation improvements. Perry says the Border of the future will look different, "If we do our job right and we get the Border infrastructure right, Texas will be better, it'll be safer and it'll be more prosperous in places all over the state."

Thursday, the senators toured the construction site of the Texas History Museum of the future and participated in the ceremonial laying of the first concrete. There is legislation pending to name the museum for former Lt. Governor Bob Bullock. Bullock was present for the inspection and participated in a group photo with Senate members. The museum is due to open in April 2001.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 19 at 1:30 p.m.

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