Uresti gets the most out of the 81st Legislative session
AUSTIN — The 81st Legislative Session adjourned 'sine die' on Monday, ending a productive regular session for Sen. Carlos Uresti and the people of Senate District 19.
"It was a session of twists, turns and surprises, mixed with its share of partisan squabbles and House-Senate spats. Let's just say it was colorful," Uresti said. "All that coincided with the most ambitious agenda I've ever carried. I was a challenging session, but I got a lot done."
Uresti passed the last bill of the session, a child protection measure creating a statewide Blue Ribbon Task Force that will develop a strategic plan to combat child abuse; and the Texas Medical Child Abuse Resources and Education System, a program that will provide $5 million in grants to develop and support regional efforts to diagnose and treat child abuse and neglect.
Working with state leaders and other members of the Bexar delegation, Uresti accomplished many of his legislative goals, despite a contentious battle over a Voter ID bill that killed a number of bills in the House.
His major initiatives included a bill to speed up construction of the Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus, protect Laughlin AFB and create new health care and child protection programs.
Passage of the TAMUSA bill freed up $40 million in tuition revenue bonds, allowing construction on the campus to proceed. By the fall of 2011, a modern campus will replace the overcrowded classrooms that students are currently using at a former elementary school.
"It has taken ten years to transform TAMUSA from dream to reality," Uresti said. "Now it won't be long before a modern, new campus is available to help young people accomplish their dreams."
In the budget process, Uresti helped secure more than $16 million in operating funds for TAMUSA, $4 million for a project to strengthen Medina Dam and $12 million for additional face-to-face visits between child protection caseworkers and children at risk for abuse and neglect.
Another legislative priority was protecting Laughlin AFB in Del Rio from encroachment. Uresti's bill establishes a five-mile buffer around the base and creates a Regional Military Sustainability Commission to review the compatibility of proposed development projects within that area.
"The idea is to manage growth around the base in a way that does not interfere with Laughlin's ability to maintain its current operations and expand its role in the future," he said.
Uresti was directly involved in the development and passage of a number of other bills and served as a co-sponsor on many others. His legislative accomplishments include:
Child abuse reporting – Mandates that the Department of Family and Protective Services release findings and information about children who have died of abuse or neglect; such disclosure will promote public scrutiny of abuse cases that result in death, leading to improvements in child welfare policy and practices.
Veterans' tax exemption – Enables the state to implement a 2007 constitutional amendment that makes veterans who are 100 percent disabled from military-related injuries exempt from property taxes.
Greyson's Law – Requires that Department of State Health Service to expanded its newborn screening program from 29 to 49 disorders; named for Greyson Morris, who died just before his first birthday of Krabbe disease, which affects the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Mental patient transportation plans – Requires state mental hospitals to develop a written transportation plan when a patient is discharged or furloughed; spurred by the death last year of Raquel Padilla, who was found dead several days after San Antonio State Hospital workers dropped her off at a downtown bus station.
The Health Care Access Fund – Pays the tuition of doctors, dentists, nurses, nurse practitioners and mental health professionals who agree to work in underserved communities for up to four years; program will be funded by a tax on smokeless tobacco.
Court Appointed Special Advocates – Grants state employees up 60 hours per year of time off to be a CASA volunteer. The organization trains and organizes people who are appointed by judges to oversee and advocate for abused and neglected children as they move through the legal and social service systems.
New courts for Bexar County – Creates three new county courts at law to help address a significant backlog of cases that are awaiting trial. New courts have not been created in Bexar County since 1999.
Translators and interpreters – Requires the creation of an Advisory Committee on Qualifications for Health Care Translators and Interpreters; with about one-third of the people of Texas speaking a language other than English, the bill is designed to improve the quality of language interpretation in medical settings.
The House and Senate adjourned their 140-day regular session Monday with sine die motions – Latin for 'without a fixed date' to reconvene.
Carlos Uresti is the senator from State Senate District 19 representing over 750,000 residents throughout a 23 county area stretching along the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Antonio to El Paso County, including all or part of the following: Bandera, Bexar, Brewster, Culberson, Crockett, El Paso, Edwards, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Kinney, Loving, Maverick, Medina, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Ward, and Winkler counties. Covering 55,000 square miles, the district contains 62 school districts and spans two time zones.