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May 21, 1999     (512) 463-0300
U.S. Army Specialist Steven M.  Gonzales and parents
Gilbert and Rosie Gonzales of Huntsville with their son, during the reading of House Concurrent Resolution 269 in his honor. Gonzales and two other American soldiers were taken captive on the Macedonian border in March during the air strikes against Yugoslavia. The three soldiers were held captive for one month.

AUSTIN - Legislation passed out of the Texas Senate today may allow low level radioactive waste to be sent to the High Plains with private businesses responsible for handling it. The Committee Substitute for House Bill 1171 was amended by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan to limit the location of a low-level radiation site to Andrews County, the only county that wants it. Private businesses must prove they have the financial security to handle the waste before the state would issue a license.

Bill sponsor Senator J. E. 'Buster' Brown of Lake Jackson says a private venture will speed up the process of handling waste no one has wanted to touch for 17 years. "If you have more than one that are trying to do it and you get competition for getting it done in the best way possible and having the best available technology, I think we'll see a faster process come to life," said Brown.

The change drew concern from several senators including Dallas Senator Royce West who say the State of Texas should hold on to the license and contract with private entities to dispose of the waste. "Why in the world would we want to put the State of Texas in a position where we could be held hostage on such a critical issue by private enterprise?" said West. El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh offered an amendment to keep the license in the hands of the state. The amendment failed to be adopted. The bill passed with a vote of 22 ayes and 7 nays.

A debate over who needs state financial assistance sparked a plea on behalf of agriculture producers. Bryan Senator Steve Ogden sponsored Senate Bill 706. He says the Legislature has focused too much on recruiting new business and industries to the state and have neglected the agriculture industry. "We are reaching out more and more to people who haven't been here very long. And we say please come to Texas, we'll cut your taxes. And I worry about the fairness of that because what about the people who've always been here? What about the people who've built this state and made this state what it is, and I'm sure that production agriculture is in that category," said Ogden.

Ogden says even though the legislation passed the Senate, it does not have time to make it through the House and become law. He says he simply wanted his concerns to be heard. Ogden says he will continue to work on economic incentives--including a property tax cut for farmers struggling through harsh Texas weather.

Most candidates for statewide political offices will now be required to file campaign contributions electronically. House Bill (HB) 2611 sponsor Fort Worth Senator Mike Moncrief says this will allow more Texans to access this information. The Ethics Commission will post the information on the Internet, if the legislation becomes law.

The Senate also passed legislation creating incentives for retired teachers to return to the classroom. HB 1702 allows teachers to keep receiving their retirement benefits if they return to teach the subject of their certification in an area with a shortage of teachers. Dallas Senator Royce West sponsored the bill.

Former Prisoner of War (POW) Steven Gonzales, came to the Texas Senate today, just weeks after being released from captivity in Yugoslavia. Prior to visiting the Capitol, Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. sponsored legislation that creates a full scholarship, covering all expenses, to any state college or university for Gonzales and future POWs from Texas. "We don't take our American men and women for granted," said Lucio. "Our Texas citizens are important and we will do everything we can to assist them in accomplishing the most important goal in their lives, and that is education."

Gonzales attended Texas A&M University prior to joining the military and plans to return after completion of his duty. "It's a great honor and it's going to help me fulfill a dream of mine," said Gonzales.

The Senate will reconvene at Monday, May 24, at 10:00 a.m.

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AUSTIN - Legislation passed in the Senate 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 the more than $40 million in highway funding.

Texas would not give the death penalty to people with mental retardation if a bill passed Tuesday, May 18 becomes law. Houston Senator Rodney Ellis sponsored CSSB 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 argue that juries can already consider mental capacity when deciding punishment. The bill offers life in prison rather than execution for people with mental retardation.

Legislation passed out of the Texas Senate Friday, May 21 may allow low level radioactive waste to be sent to the High Plains with private businesses responsible for handling it. The Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 1171 was amended by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan to limit the location of a low-level radiation site to Andrews County, the only county that wants it. Private businesses must prove they have the financial security to handle the waste before the state would issue a license.

Bill sponsor Senator J. E. 'Buster' Brown of Lake Jackson says a private venture will speed up the process of handling waste no one has wanted to touch for 17 years. "If you have more than one that are trying to do it and you get competition for getting it done in the best way possible and having the best available technology, I think we'll see a faster process come to life," said Brown.

The change drew concern from several senators including Dallas Senator Royce West who say the State of Texas should hold on to the license and contract with private entities to dispose of the waste. "Why in the world would we want to put the State of Texas in a position where we could be held hostage on such a critical issue by private enterprise?" said West. El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh offered an amendment to keep the license in the hands of the state. The amendment failed to be adopted. The bill passed with a vote of 22 ayes and 7 nays.

A debate over who needs state financial assistance sparked a plea on behalf of agriculture producers. Bryan Senator Steve Ogden sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 706. He says the Legislature has focused too much on recruiting new business and industries to the state and have neglected the agriculture industry. "We are reaching out more and more to people who haven't been here very long. And we say please come to Texas, we'll cut your taxes. And I worry about the fairness of that because what about the people who've always been here? What about the people who've built this state and made this state what it is, and I'm sure that production agriculture is in that category," said Ogden.

Ogden says even though the legislation passed the Senate, it does not have time to make it through the House and become law. He says he simply wanted his concerns to be heard. Ogden says he will continue to work on economic incentives--including a property tax cut for farmers struggling through harsh Texas weather.

Legislation encouraging producers to bring shut down oil and gas wells back into production passed Tuesday. 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. over

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday, May 19 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. HB 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."

Legislation affecting Texans who do not keep up with spousal maintenance payments passed the Senate; the funds could be taken out of their paycheck. Currently, the state only garnishes wages for child support. Arlington Senator Chris Harris sponsored House Joint Resolution (HJR) 16, which passed the Senate and now requires voter approval. Also passed was House Bill 145, the enabling legislation for HJR 16.

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.

The Senate passed legislation Monday, May 17 to assist counties in restoring their historic courthouses. Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay sponsored CSHB 1341. The $50 million will be sent to counties via the Texas Historical Commission. Counties will be required to spend 15% of their own money on the projects. Fraser says smaller counties cannot afford the total costs on their own. "A lot of them would like to restore these courthouses but you get a county the size of Menard that only has two or three thousand people in the county, there's not a tax base there to support this. And I think there's a feeling within the people of the State of Texas that this is an important project to make sure that we preserve this part of history," said Fraser.

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 CSHB 2867.

Most candidates for statewide political offices will now be required to file campaign contributions electronically. HB 2611 sponsor Fort Worth Senator Mike Moncrief says this will allow more Texans to access this information. The Ethics Commission will post the information on the Internet, if the legislation becomes law.

The Senate also passed legislation creating incentives for retired teachers to return to the classroom. HB 1702 allows teachers to keep receiving their retirement benefits if they return to teach the subject of their certification in an area with a shortage of teachers. Dallas Senator Royce West sponsored the bill.

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.

Former Prisoner of War (POW) Steven Gonzales came to the Texas Senate just weeks after being released from captivity in Yugoslavia. Prior to visiting the Capitol, Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. sponsored legislation that creates a full scholarship, covering all expenses, to any state college or university for Gonzales and future POWs from Texas. "We don't take our American men and women for granted," said Lucio. "Our Texas citizens are important and we will do everything we can to assist them in accomplishing the most important goal in their lives, and that is education."

Gonzales attended Texas A&M University prior to joining the military and plans to return after completion of his duty. "It's a great honor and it's going to help me fulfill a dream of mine," said Gonzales.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 24 at 10:00 a.m.

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