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April 27, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Law enforcement received assistance to help fight gang violence in the Texas Senate today. The Senate voted to create a statewide database containing information about street gangs. Dallas Senator Royce West sponsored the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 8. "It will allow law enforcement to crack down on those individuals that would organize gangs and prey on citizens whether it be crimes against a person or crimes against property," said West. West says it strikes an important balance between empowering law enforcement and protecting individual rights.

Although the bill had widespread support, West's amendment allowing local governments to opt out of the database did not. Opposing senators, including Victoria Senator Ken Armbrister, said it destroyed the purpose of the bill, "We cannot give law enforcement a tool and keep the bullet away from them. It's not going to work. If your going to have a statewide database you must have a statewide database." The amendment ended in the first tie vote of the session, leaving the decision up to Lt.Governor Rick Perry, who chose not to add new language to the bill.

Texans may have quicker access to public information under legislation passed today. Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio sponsored CSSB 1851, a product of an Interim committee held during the 75th Legislative Session that he chaired. Wentworth says it will cut down the amount of time it takes a government body to comply with public information requests. The bill would shorten the time the attorney general has to respond to questions from public entities about whether they need to release public records. Another provision allows the rejection of repetitious and redundant requests for information that can be costly and time-consuming. Wentworth says the bill will help government agencies respond to what he calls harassing requests.

Perry praised the bill for allowing the public to examine their government. "This bill strengthens the state's open records act and reconfirms that our citizens deserve government that operates openly, honestly and in the bright sunshine of public scrutiny," said Perry.

Government agencies would have to alert the Legislature before they contract with outside attorneys under CSSB 113. Bill sponsor Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay says agencies should not be allowed to award contingency fee contracts without legislative approval. He wants to make sure that money won in those lawsuits goes to the state. "This bill is about open government, accountability to the taxpayers and making sure that the Legislature gets to appropriate any money recovered by the state if the lawsuit is handled on a contingency fee basis," Fraser said in a press conference after session today. The bill is a response to actions taken during the state's tobacco lawsuit which involved multiple outside lawyers. Only future litigation will be affected.

Finally, welfare recipients in Texas would still receive benefits during the first six months of employment after beginning work. Under the current system, recipients lose eligibility once they begin a 20-hour or more per week job. Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo sponsored CSSB 13. Zaffirini hopes it will help ease the transition back to work.

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, April 28, at 10:00 a.m.

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