from the office of State Senator Judith Zaffirini

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gabe Valenzuela
(512) 463-0121
March 22, 2005

Senate Passes Senator Zaffirini's School Safety & Border Commerce Initiatives

(AUSTIN) -- The Texas Senate on Tuesday (March 22) passed bills to enhance safer learning environments for Texas schoolchildren and to promote commerce along the Texas and Mexico border. Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, authored Senate Bill 152, the Bullying Prevention Act, and SBs 293 and 569, which require the Department of Public Safety and Department of Transportation to meet quarterly with their Mexican counterparts.

The Bullying Prevention Act would require school districts to revise their discipline management programs to include elements to prevent bullying, harassment and abuse at school, school events and school vehicles.

"Bullying is a growing problem in our schools," said Senator Zaffirini, a member of the Senate Education Committee. "Many students have said that they have been bullied by other students, and current law does not require that school districts address this issue."

According to figures from the National Association of School Psychologists, among the nation's 53.8 million children in kindergarten through 12th grade, more than 160,000 skip classes every day because they fear bullies.

Research indicates that children who have been bullied are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem, and bullies may be future criminals. The National Threat Assessment Center, run by the U.S. Secret Service, reports that in more than two-thirds of 37 school shootings, the attackers felt "persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured."

"Yesterday's tragic school shooting in Minnesota and reported suicides of students who feared bullying are very compelling reasons for passing this legislation," Senator Zaffirini said. "This bill will create a safer learning environment for students while ensuring local control by giving school districts the discretion and flexibility for complying with the bill's requirement."

The Senate also passed Senator Zaffirini's SBs 293 and 569 that will help ease traffic congestion and mitigate delays along the border. Since 1999 Senator Zaffirini and border lawmakers have supported the possibility of an inspection or pre-clearance system on the Mexican side of the river.

"Border legislators have been aware of jurisdictional issues regarding locating U.S. inspection stations on the Mexican side of busy ports of entry since 1999," said Senator Zaffirini, the senior senator for the border region. "That is why we helped create the position of Border Commerce Coordinator whose role it is to overcome such jurisdictional challenges with the specific directive to facilitate the efficient movement of goods and people across the border."

The border commerce bills would require DPS and TxDOT to meet quarterly with their counterparts in Mexican states bordering Texas. Their purposes would include discussing issues related to truck inspections, transportation and infrastructure and to submit a progress report to the legislature before regular legislative sessions.

A 2001 report by Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn concluded that border crossing processes create "imbalances in border traffic which lead to congestion and restrict the movement of goods and people across the border."

Further encouragement for moving inspections stations to the Mexican side of the border came on Dec. 17, 2004, when the U.S. and Canada announced a pilot project to move pre-clearance inspection stations, both primary and secondary border stations, for all commercial and passenger southbound traffic to the Canadian side of Peace Bridge, which connects Buffalo, New York, to Fort Erie, Canada.

"We hope that this U.S./Canada initiative will be an example for the United States and Mexico to work together to create a more modern, secure and efficient border commercial crossing system," said Senator Zaffirini.

The Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development at Texas A&M International University reported more than 2.8 million northbound truck crossings at Texas-Mexico land ports in 2003. The latest data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce lists Laredo as the busiest port of entry, having an increase in cross-border trade of $11 billion in 2004, reaching $89.7 billion. Since the implementation of NAFTA, northbound crossings increased by 335 percent between 1994 and 2003.

"These bills would allow Texas to be the leader in uniting local, state and federal officials to address these issues and provide solutions that will be economically and socially beneficial to all parties involved," Senator Zaffirini said.

SBs 293 and 569 were recommended by the Senate Committee on International Relations & Trade and co-authored by Senators Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso. They must be passed by the Texas House of Representatives before they can be sent to Governor Rick Perry for approval.

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