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May 20, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Legislation passed in the Senate today toughens Texas' open container law. Texans who get caught driving with a beer in hand would be convicted of a new offense, and if they are convicted of DWI--the penalties become even harsher. The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 138 easily passed out of the Senate. Under the bill, anyone in the car with an open alcoholic beverage container could be charged with a misdemeanor. Beverages locked in the trunk or a glove compartment would not be included. The bill also requires the suspension of vehicle registration for people convicted of repeated DWI offenses.

Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson sponsored the bill. "We can continue to let DWI offenders hold onto their driving privileges or we can save lives and build roads. Either we can keep a relaxed open container law that is practically unenforceable as it is currently written or we can save lives and build roads. It is that simple," said Nelson. Texas will not receive additional federal money for passing the bill but if the Legislature does not change the law, the state would lose more than $40 million in highway funding.

Governor George W. Bush made a rare visit to the Senate floor. He said the visit was just to say hello. Rumors that the school voucher proposal might reach the Senate floor drew questions as to whether he was there to get senators behind an idea he supports. "I believe, and I know the Lt. Governor feels the same way, this will make the public schools better," said Bush.

The voucher plan would use public money to send some Texans to private schools. Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins says he did not try to use another bill as a vehicle to carry his voucher program today because he did not have the votes. "I think the vehicles were finely tuned and running well with V-8 engines, but the problem is I think we were a little short of drivers," said Bivins.

Lt. Governor Rick Perry supports vouchers and says he has not given up yet. "It's still a work in progress. There are, I'm sure, a number of vehicles and its still very much alive. And we've still got ten days in the session," said Perry.

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow, May 21, at 10:00 a.m.

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