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May 11, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Senators want to make sure that Texas' tobacco settlement money is put to good use. The Senate passed the Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 1676 which sets aside one half billion dollars ($500,000,000) for permanent funds. The earnings could then be used to fund tobacco education and enforcement, children and public health, emergency medical services and trauma care, and rural health facilities. Health related institutions would get the proceeds from a new $580 million dollar Higher Education Fund to benefit medical research, health education and treatment programs. Senator Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant sponsored both proposals, CSHB 1945 and CSHB 1676.

In legislation passed today, employers would be immune from lawsuits if they disclose truthful information about former employees. CSHB 341 still allows employees to sue if they can prove that the employer knew the information they disclosed was false or was done with malicious intent. Senate sponsor Jane Nelson of Flower Mound says it is a safety issue. "Statistics show that employers are afraid to release information about employees beyond name, rank and serial number so we don't know if someone we hire has harassed, stolen or is violent. The CSHB 341 creates a safe workplace for all Texans," said Nelson.

Although it is not 'until deaths do us part', a covenant marriage contract is close. The Senate passed a bill to engrossment creating the stricter, voluntary marriage contract. The commitment would include premarital counseling and would make obtaining a divorce much more difficult. Wichita Falls Senator Tom Haywood sponsored the CSHB 644 because he says something needs to be done to help couples stay together. The bill is pending final passage.

Colonias would be able to keep state assistance for five years after being annexed by a city under House Bill (HB) 1982. Current law requires colonias to give up state help immediately after being annexed. Corpus Christi Senator Carlos F. Truan sponsored the bill in the Senate. "This will ease the burden on cities and encourage more municipalities to annex colonias," said Truan.

Former prisoners of war from Texas, including the recently released soldier Steven Gonzales, would get a free ride to a public college or university under legislation passed today. Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville sponsored the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 1902. Lucio says he filed the bill in honor of Gonzales who he says joined the armed forces after he could not afford to finish his education at Texas A&M University.

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, May 12, at 10:00 a.m.

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