March 1999

The work of the 76th Legislature is in full swing as nearly 5,000 total bills have been filed in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I have been busy assembling my legislative package which currently includes more than 90 separate Senate bills. While the Legislature only meets 140 days every two years, legislators use the interim periods to research issues and draft legislative ideas. Otherwise, 140 days would not provide sufficient time to fully develop some of the major issues under consideration. The following is a list of some of the legislation on which I am working.

Legislation Authored by Senator Carona

SB 46 -- Makes it a crime to unlawfully obtain and/or assume another person's identity. Upon conviction, the criminal would face jail time and be required to make restitution to the victim for any monetary damages.
Status -- Passed the Senate on February 25, and is awaiting action in the House.
SB 101 -- Targets habitual drunk drivers by requiring those convicted of a third drunk driving offense to forfeit their driving privileges in Texas.
SB 102 -- Targets drunk drivers who ignore their punishment by requiring law enforcement to impound a vehicle driven by a person with a driver's license currently suspended for a DWI-related offense. The impoundment would last for the duration of the suspension.
Status -- SB 101 and SB 102 are awaiting a hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Home Equity:
SJR 8 and SB 48--These two pieces of legislation, through amending the Texas Constitution and the Finance Code, would provide the state Finance Commission authority to issue rules clarifying the home equity provisions of the Texas Constitution.
Status -- SJR 8 was approved by the Senate Subcommittee on Technology and Business Growth and is awaiting action by the Senate Economic Development Committee. SB 48 is awaiting a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
SJR12 -- This amendment to the Texas Constitution will make necessary changes to the provisions governing reverse mortgages to provide this product to senior citizens in Texas.
Status -- This resolution was unanimously approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee on March 11 and is awaiting action by the full Senate.

Open Records:
SB 277 -- Reduces the time deadline during which the attorney general must issue a decision on whether information requested from a governmental body is confidential or public. It also prevents a governmental body from asking for a reconsideration of an opinion.
SB 279 -- Requires governmental bodies to provide one free copy of public information requested by another governmental body for official purposes.
Status -- SB 277 and SB 279 were approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee and are awaiting action by the full Senate.
SB 613 -- Clarifies the authority for the Comptroller to release public information in its possession.
Status -- SB 613 passed the Senate on March 11 and is now awaiting action in the House.

Health Care:
SB 288 -- Requires health maintenance organizations (HMOs) to cover the surgical repair of cranial facial abnormalities.
Status -- Awaiting a hearing in the Senate Economic Development Committee.
SB 99 -- Authorizes hospitals to test a patient for hepatitis B or C if a health care worker is accidentally exposed to the patient's blood or other bodily fluids.
Status -- Passed the Senate on February 25 and is awaiting action by the House.

SB 111 -- Allows local school districts the option of requiring majority vote elections rather than a simple plurality of the vote.
Status -- Passed the Senate on March 2 and is awaiting action in the House.

SJR 21 -- Eliminates the personal property tax currently assessed on vehicles leased for personal use. As leasing of vehicles continues to be an attractive alternative to purchasing, many are not aware of this tax that was intended for business leasing.
Status -- Awaiting a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.
SB 164 -- Provides licensed professionals who are not practicing their licensed trade to apply for inactive status which would allow for reduced fees and eliminate a $200 occupation tax.
Status -- Awaiting a hearing in the Senate Economic Development Committee.
SB 85 -- Updates Texas laws governing letters of credit to reflect technological developments in the exchange of this information.
Status -- Passed the Senate on February 25 and is awaiting action in the House.

While I am actively pursuing the passage of my legislation into law, much of my time is consumed with hearings of the various committees to which I was appointed to serve this legislative session.

Senator Carona's Committee Assignments

As the committee charged with drafting the two-year spending plan for the state, the Senate Finance Committee is a significant appointment. This committee has been meeting from morning until evening each day as we hear testimony regarding the budget requests from the various agencies and boards funded by state revenue. While this is an exhausting committee assignment, I am excited about the opportunity to have a voice at the table as important funding decisions are made for the next two years.

Human Services Committee:
I was honored to be appointed Vice-Chair of the Senate Human Services Committee which will be examining continued changes to our state welfare system as well as the regulation of human services professionals in Texas. As Vice-Chair, I am expected to serve as Chairperson whenever the appointed Chair is not present.

Economic Development Committee:
This committee debates a wide range of issues to make Texas a better place to do business. As our state continues to grow, the issues debated by this committee will have a direct impact on the development of business and industry in Texas. As part of my work on this committee, I also was appointed to the Subcommittee on Technology and Business Growth. This subcommittee has been given the responsibility of examining legislation focused on increasing competition in the local telephone market, as well as other efforts to reduce laws that unfairly target businesses for lawsuits.

I am honored to have received these appointments by the Lieutenant Governor and have already enjoyed the varying challenges presented by the issues debated in these committees.

(Note: See insert for complete listing of Senate and House Committees along with staff contacts and phone numbers.)

Progress of Major Issues

Budget Surplus:
The Senate Finance Committee, on which I serve, recently completed listening to testimony from the various agencies regarding their needs and proposed budgets for the next biennium. Should the committee choose to accept all the proposed spending increases, the $5.3 billion budget surplus would be spent several-fold. While the state economy is still growing, the Legislature must refrain from mortgaging the state's future by committing to excessive spending increases. I continue to focus on increasing education spending and providing tax reductions as the most responsible uses for the surplus.

Electric Utility Restructuring:
The Senate Special Committee on Electric Restructuring has been listening to testimony for several weeks on this important issue. The bill, SB 7, which would open up the retail electricity market to competition, is scheduled to be debated by the full Senate on March 17. As a senator who represents a district with a municipally-owned electric utility, I have unique concerns as to the outcome of this debate. I am closely monitoring this legislation to ensure that Garland Power and Light, which provides a significant source of revenue for the city of Garland, is protected.

Tax Relief:
The Senate recently passed a bill to provide tax relief to Texans. SB 148 exempts small businesses with $100,000 or less in gross receipts from having to pay state franchise taxes. As the engine that drives the economy and the entity that provides most of the job growth, small businesses are critical to maintaining a strong state economy. This bill will provide an estimated $57million in tax relief should it pass the House and be signed into law by the Governor.

The Legislature's first priority this session is education. The Senate Finance Committee has been determining what level of additional state resources are available to commit to local education. While the Legislature anticipated having $2 billion available for local schools, there are now concerns that significantly less will be available after the state's required program increases are funded. One education initiative, ending social promotion of students unable to demonstrate reading ability consistent with their grade level, was recently approved by the Senate. This bill will provide early intervention for those students who have difficulty reading. By addressing these needs early in a student's life, it will improve their chances to succeed both academically and professionally as they progress through the education system.

Telecommunications Reform:
When the Texas Legislature passed telecommunications reform legislation in 1995, it envisioned significant competition and lower prices for consumers for their local phone service. Unfortunately, little competition has materialized. To address concerns on the pricing of local phone service, as well as access rates local phone companies charge to connect and disconnect a long distance phone call, legislation has been introduced to lower these rates.

If I or my staff can provide you any information or copies of the bills before the Legislature, please do not hesitate to contact us at any of the addresses or numbers listed below. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you. Sincerely,

John Carona
Senate District 16