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.
- SB 551 would allow parents, communities and government entities that are affected by a criminal street gang or gang members to bring a civil suit against the gang and/or its members and recover their damages. Money is the most important thing to these criminal organizations, and SB 551 would make them liable for the damages they inflict in our cities and communities.
- SB 1256 would designate "gang-free zones" in areas frequented by youth and increase penalties for criminal activity by gangs in those areas. These zones would include areas such as schools, youth centers, public pools, movie theaters and shopping malls. The goal of this legislation is to protect our young people from the negative effects gang membership and gang violence can have on them.
- SB 332 would require participation in gang intervention programs by youth who are found guilty of gang crime when a judge determines that they would benefit from such a program. Protecting our children is one of my priorities, and I hope, if we can keep kids out of gangs at a young age, then we can begin to eliminate these dangerous organizations.
- SB 379 would require an annual report to be submitted to the Governor, providing the Office of the Governor with sound information about the threat that transnational gangs pose to Texas and including recommendations on actions that could be taken to deter these threats. In this time of growing unrest on the border and the increasing violence perpetrated by the Mexican drug cartels, I believe this report will provide us with information imperative to keeping Texas secure.
- SB 388 would create a special unit within the Texas Rangers to investigate allegations of transnational gang-related corruption of law enforcement. We hold our law enforcement officers in the highest regard and know that the majority of our officers would never be corrupted. But for those rare instances where organized crime is able to influence an officer, the people of this state deserve better.
- SB 1635 would require the providers of pre-paid mobile phones to collect and store basic data about the purchaser, similar to the information companies currently retain when an individual signs a contract on a cellular phone. One of the most important tools for organized criminals is the ability to communicate. Law enforcement has learned over time how to monitor gang members' communications very effectively, but the advent of pre-paid mobile phones has provided gang members with a means to thwart law enforcement's monitoring efforts. These devices are purchased by gang members in bulk, used for a short time and then thrown away. Should this legislation become law, criminal gangs would no longer be able to evade law enforcement by this means when planning and carrying out illegal operations.
- SB 329 would require suspension of a person’s driver's license for 1 year upon conviction for a gang offense.
- SB 366 would allow judges discretion to require that an offender serve penalties consecutively and not concurrently when the offense includes activity in a criminal street gang.
- SB 367 focuses on the reliance transnational gangs have on false identification cards. This legislation states that when a person creates an illegal false ID, they cannot in trial use the defense of writing “not a government document” in small letters on the ID.
- SB 371 would amend the Code of Criminal Procedure by adding items used or intended to be used in the commission of gang offenses to the definition of what constitutes "contraband" and could therefore be subject to forfeiture. This measure would ensure a fair and efficient means of confiscating property used by street gangs in carrying out criminal activity and help make certain that rightful owners of such property will have the means to retrieve it.
- SB 423 would add to the standard list of requirements that a judge may apply to a person’s probation that a person shall not have contact with other gang members.
- SB 937 would penalize gang members who use the Internet to recruit new gang members and promote themselves as gang members.
- SB 11 is my Gang Omnibus legislation for this session. It will combine several of the bills listed above into one measure.
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.
State Senator - District 16
|P.O. Box 12068|
Austin, TX 78711
|8080 N. Central Expy.
Suite 1440, LB 44
Dallas, TX 75206
|5401 N. Central Expy.
Dallas, TX 75205