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May 18, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - The Texas Senate spent more than six hours in session today passing more than 40 pieces of legislation. There is less than two weeks remaining in the 76th Legislative Session. Committee work in the Senate was concluded last Friday and concludes this Saturday in the Texas House. The Legislature will adjourn 'Sine Die' on May 31. Sine Die is the Latin term for 'without another day'.

In Senate action, legislation prohibiting the death sentence to be applied to people with mental retardation had tentative approval today. Houston Senator Rodney Ellis sponsored the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 326. "Just as we don't execute children in Texas, we won't execute people who have the mental capacity of a child. That's all the bill does," said Ellis.

Opponents of the bill, including Bryan Senator Steve Ogden, argue that juries can already consider mental capacity when deciding punishment. "If a jury has the ability to determine the mental state of the defendant--whether they were mentally capable of determining right and wrong and whether they should be held responsible for their act. Why do we need to take that, basically, away from the jury and hand it to the lawyers in the court?" said Ogden.

The bill offers life in prison rather than execution for people with mental retardation. Ellis did not have enough votes to suspend the rules for final passage today. If it passes into law, the new penalties will only apply to future convictions.

Legislation encouraging producers to bring shut down oil and gas wells back into production passed today. Lake Jackson Senator J. E. 'Buster' Brown sponsored House Bill (HB) 2615 and says the state should use tax incentives to continue to encourage Texans to open up old wells and look for new ones. This bill would extend current incentives by up to ten years.

Children interrogated in a Department of Protective and Regulatory Services office would receive a warning about their rights under HB 2671. These rights include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Children in detention or in custody already receive the warning. If this bill becomes law, a child's statement during an interrogation could not be used as evidence unless officials gave the warning. El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh sponsored the bill.

Texas needs to compete to keep the smartest Texas students in Texas. The Senate passed a bill allowing Texas colleges and universities to use certain funds to match non-athletic scholarship offers from out of state schools. Dallas Senator Royce West sponsored the Committee Substitute for House Bill 2867.

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, May 19, at 10:00 a.m.

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