Senator Carona's Email Update
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March 26, 2009

What's New . . .

On March 13, 2009, the 81st Session of the Texas Legislature reached the 60-day mark. In Texas, the 60th day of a legislative session is the last day to file new bills. After this point, the House of Representatives and the Senate can debate and vote on bills on the floor. When we reached the deadline, 7,348 bills and joint resolutions had been filed in the Legislature, with 2,500 of those in the Senate. I have authored over 160 bills and am looking forward to a successful session.

As noted in my last Email Update, Governor Perry declared legislation to improve Texas' State Schools for the developmentally disabled an emergency item for this session. By giving this issue emergency status, the Governor enabled the Legislature to immediately consider bills relating to this topic. On March 9, the Senate passed SB 643, relating to the protection and care of individuals with mental retardation who reside in a state developmental center, by Senator Jane Nelson, Chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. SB 643 has now been sent to the House for consideration. In light of more recent allegations against State School employees, stricter scrutiny for employees will continue to be a high priority for legislators.

SB 3, authored by Senator Florence Shapiro, Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, and HB 3, authored by Representative Rob Eissler, Chairman of the House Education Committee, were filed on March 5. These identical bills propose a major overhaul to Texas' public school accountability and student testing systems.

Another education bill that has generated a significant amount of interest is SB 175, also filed by Senator Shapiro. SB 175 would amend the Top Ten Percent rule in higher education institutions. This bill would put a cap on the number of students automatically enrolled under the Top Ten Percent rule and allow universities discretion to set their own standards to fill the remaining enrollment spots. This bill did pass the Senate and has been sent to the Texas House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives is also hard at work, and earlier in the month the House Transportation Committee had a hearing concerning legislation that would ban drivers from using hand-held cell phones in certain situations. While there are a number of proposals for "hang-up-and-drive" legislation, the current focus is on placing a statewide ban on using cell phones in school zones or prohibiting teenagers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone while driving.

When Speaker Joe Straus appointed committees in February, he created the House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding, which is chaired by Representative Jim Dunnam of Waco. On March 10, Representative Dunnam filed HB 2942 which would create the State Fiscal Responsibility Office. This office would monitor and investigate state spending of federal money generated from the federal stimulus plan. There are several different websites where you can track how the federal stimulus money is being allocated in Texas.

Focus . . .

Criminal gangs have been present in Texas for many years, but in recent years their presence has increased. Transnational gangs involved in the international drug trade have moved into our state and established a foothold in the border area. These gangs are now using existing local Texas gangs as if they were subcontractors to sell their drugs throughout the state.

The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, which I chair, has spent the past year and a half working with law enforcement, prosecutors, community leaders and civil liberties groups to develop legislation focused on curtailing local and transnational gang activities in Texas. This legislative package proposes a number of important tools in the fight against criminal gangs.

My goal in proposing these anti-gang measures is to promote the safety and security of the citizens of Texas. My legislative colleagues and I are committed to addressing the dangerous gang threat in our communities to the fullest extent possible. These bills will interact with other legislation that I and others are carrying to address illegal immigration, border security, emergency management and other aspects of a well-rounded homeland security approach.

Did You Know . . . ?

Start your morning by going to "Today's Committee Meetings" under Quick Links on the Legislative Reference Library homepage. This monthly calendar provides links to current, future and past scheduled committee hearings. Click on the current day and find up-to-the-minute committee activity. Current day schedules include time, location, agenda, as well as a link to the hearing broadcast in both the House and Senate for easy viewing access.

On this same page, click on "View bills scheduled for public hearing" to see links to the bills on the schedule and links to newspaper articles, reports and other related documents.

In Closing . . .

It is always helpful for me to know your views on the issues we are considering in Austin. This space does not permit me to write about them all here, but please feel free to let me know your views on the issues of importance to you that are not mentioned in this, or any, Email Update. I will always appreciate hearing from you.


John Carona
State Senator - District 16

Capitol Office District Offices
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711
512-463-3135 (fax)
8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
214-378-5739 (fax)
5401 N. Central Expy.
Suite 300
Dallas, TX 75205
214-953-1886 (fax)