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May 19, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - The Senate passed legislation today allowing the public more access to certain government meetings that are now closed. The Texas Open Meetings Act requires that all but a very few meetings by government bodies be open to the public. The Committee Substitute for House Bill 156 expands the definition of meetings to include informal gatherings, such as staff briefings. Bill sponsor, San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, said, "Humans being what they are, it is very difficult to resist the temptation--once you're in one of these staff briefings and you're being briefed as a public body by a staff member-- from getting involved in a public discussion." Wentworth says the public deserves access to these meetings. "House Bill 156 would eliminate a loophole that has existed in the Open Meetings Act for over a decade," said Wentworth.

Legislation affecting Texans who do not keep up with spousal maintenance payments passed the Senate today; the funds could be taken out of their paycheck. Currently, the state only garnishes wages for child support. Bill sponsor, Arlington Senator Chris Harris says such payments are limited in Texas.

Bill opponent, Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins says that is a good reason not to pass the bill. "We are a community property state. We have been for our entire history. Four years ago we created alimony in Texas and now we want garnishment for alimony. And I just don't think it's good policy," said Bivins. The Senate passed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 16, which requires voter approval. Also passed was House Bill 145, the enabling legislation for HJR 16.

The Senate passed legislation in preparation for a vacancy in the governor's office. Speculation about a possible presidential run by Governor George W. Bush prompted the action. If the governor leaves permanently, the lt. governor would take over. Senators would then meet to elect one of their own to serve as acting lt. governor. That member would perform the duties of both senator and lt. governor. Texas voters will have the final say on HJR 44, which will appear on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in November.

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, May 20, at 10 a.m.

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