From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23

For Immediate Release
June 15, 2000

The rights of the unprotected championed during 77th Session

The 77th Session of the Texas Legislature ended a few weeks ago and now, it's time to return to where the true stars of the state are found on a daily basis. For all of us who spent the past five months at the Capitol, our efforts will ultimately be judged by you, the citizens of Texas.

It is you who sets the climate for what bills will be presented for consideration. It is you who holds the moral compass for what direction Texas should travel. It is you who decides who you will send back to Austin 18 months from now to represent and protect your interests.

I think that you, the citizens of Texas should be proud of the product of the 77th Legislative Session. For in this Session - more than in any I can remember - protecting the rights of the citizen rose as a recurring theme of many of the bills passed.

We explored the areas of Civil Rights and legislation aimed at supporting the family.

I have written and spoken countless times since the beginning of this year about the necessity and significance of a law that will prohibit the practice of Racial Profiling by law enforcement. As a minority, I should not have to rely on my visibility as an elected official to ensure that I will not be treated differently while traversing the highways and byways of Texas, or for that matter, any of the 50 states of this Union. Texas has now joined the ranks of the nine other states that have said through statute, that race should not be a factor that dictates whether or not an individual is detained, searched, or arrested by those representing the law. That decision should be based solely on suspicion of unlawful activity.

I am equally proud that after a near Herculean effort, the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act has been signed into law. Efforts to pass a law that protects the rights of all citizens from malicious acts of hatred has taken the most part of a decade to come into realization. No matter the race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, disability or sexual orientation, all persons can now feel secure that acts of violence directed toward them for which hatred is found to be the motivation will not go unpunished.

It is my belief that those who commit acts of crime should suffer the appropriate punishment. But it is my duty, and that of all involved in our system of Criminal Justice to be vigilant that innocent people are not made victims. It was with this thought that I authored Senate Bill 133, which says that race cannot be used in a court of law as a factor in predicting future criminal behavior.

Along those same lines, those who are innocent should not have their freedoms imperiled due to the lack of adequate legal representation. Indigent defense in this state is presently a system that lacks statewide standards or application. Whereas in urban areas, there likely is ready access to court-appointed legal aid, in rural areas that assistance is not always available in a timely manner. This Session, we were able to pass a bill which establishes a statewide, uniform system to provide legal assistance for those who cannot afford an attorney.

Both this bill and Senate Bill 133 were signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in recent days.

There was a statement made during the 2000 Elections to the effect that no innocent persons have been subjected to capital punishment in this state. A bill passed this Session will hopefully remedy that inherent doubt. Senate Bill 3 - already signed into law, effective immediately - will provide for the collection and preservation of DNA evidence. That DNA evidence will be available for post conviction testing in capital cases.

One bill passed by the Legislature still awaits the Governor's approval as of this writing. It pertains to whether or not mentally retarded persons should be sentenced to death. National significance has been brought to bear in the Texas-born case of Johnny Paul Penry, convicted of the 1979 murder of Pamela Moseley Carpenter. The implications of both the current and pending law have created considerable moral debate.

The foundation of America rests on one of its most basic units, that of the family. This Session, we were able to pass and expand legislation that will make for healthier children and assist in strengthening the familial bond.

Senate Bill 43 created a more simplified application process for those parents whose children need assistance under Medicaid. It also smooths the transiton to coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Created during the 76th Legislature, CHIP provides health care coverage for children whose family income exceeds Medicaid limits, but does not afford private coverage. Funding for CHIP was increased this Session.

We all know of children who - due to circumstances - are not living with their biological parents, but have been made secure in the home of the grandparents. This sometimes creates a financial hardship, a situation I addressed through legislation during the 76th Session.

The Grandparents' Bill provides a one-time $1,000 grant to grandparents to assist them with child-rearing costs. This Session, the age requirement for eligible grandparents was lowered from 50 to 45 years and as of September 1, 2001, the allowable household income will increase from 100 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

We've recently celebrated Father's Day, and now the State of Texas would like to encourage more fathers to step up to their parental obligations. A bill that I authored will limit retroactive child support payments to four years if the father complies with keeping support payments current. Why, a bill such as this? Well in some cases, it creates a near impossible task for a father - for instance - who was not aware of his paternal obligation to satisfy that responsibility.

Bills passed this Session will implement a prescription drug program for those Medicaid recipients with demonstrated need, to seniors and to the disabled. In this country of immense prosperity, measures must provide for those who are not as fortunate.

Finally, elderly citizens and others who have fallen prey to the widespread practice of predatory lending will have the assistance of state law in providing disclosure of high cost home loans.

Royce West
Texas Senate
District 23

For more information, please call Kelvin Bass at 214-467-0123.

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