News Release from Senator Robert Nichols

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 10, 2011
Contact: Alicia Pierce
(512) 463-0103

My five cents...

a few important things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol.

March is always a busy month in the Capitol as many families, students and teachers make their way to Austin during their spring breaks. There is, of course, no spring break for legislators as final bills are filed and committee agendas are full of potential legislation.

Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:

1.Giving school districts and educators better options when facing cuts

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill to give school districts and teachers more flexibility in appealing and ruling on personnel cuts. Current law requires districts to give teachers notice their contract will not be renewed 45 days before the end of the school year, a date which falls in the middle of April for most districts. Because the final budget picture will not emerge until late in the session, districts will not know how many personnel cuts might need to be made.

Senate Bill 912 gives more flexibility to this process by doubling the time a teacher has to request a hearing regarding their contract. This gives both teachers and administrators more time to respond to final budget numbers. A district that anticipates personnel cuts in April might find out in May that a smaller reduction in staff or no reduction is needed. By extending the hearing process, districts will be able to make clearer decisions regarding cuts and perhaps renew some contracts.

The Senate approved this measure unanimously and acted quickly so the measure can make it to the governor's desk by April. The legislation changes the policy for this year only and is supported by both teachers' groups and school district associations.

2. Filing Senate Sunset bills

The Senate version of Sunset bills were filed this week. Sunset is the process where the Legislature evaluates and renews the authorization for state agencies. After more than a year of hearings, the Sunset Advisory Commission makes recommendations which are incorporated into legislation for each agency. As a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission, I filed bills for several agencies this week including the Texas Forest Service, Public Utility Commission, and the Department of Information Resources. These bills will now go through the legislative process like other legislation.

3. Supporting the 10th Amendment

Gov. Rick Perry and many members of the Legislature came out in full support of House Concurrent Resolution 50 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 14, which assert states' rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I am a co-author for the Senate version of this legislation and carried a similar bill in the Senate last session.

The resolutions assert that the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights limits the scope of federal government to the powers specifically granted by the U.S. Constitution. The resolutions also call for an end to federal mandates on the states that are beyond the scope of the powers delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.

4. Granting law enforcement powers to the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas

I joined with Rep. John Otto and Rep. James White to file legislation allowing the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas to establish a law enforcement agency its reservation. This allows the Alabama-Coushatta to maintain the safety of tribe members and visitors.

Senate Bill 1378 and House Bill 2768 grant the tribal agency enforcement powers of state law on Alabama-Coushatta lands between Livingston and Woodville. Members of the tribal agency would undergo the same training, certification and continuing education standards as other law enforcement in the state. The bill only gives enforcement powers, not prosecution authority to the tribe.

5. Protecting medical privacy

On Tuesday I joined other members of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee to strengthen the protection of Texans' personal health information. Medical records include highly sensitive information, and the misuse of this information can lead to financial and personal consequences for patients.

Senate Bill 622, which now goes to the full Senate, updates Texas' medical privacy laws to reflect advances in health information technology. It prohibits the sale of protected health information, increases criminal penalties for theft of medical records, requires health care providers to provide a person's health record in an electronic format within 15 days of the request, and requires the Texas Attorney General to maintain a website providing information about consumer privacy rights and complaint procedures.

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