REVIEW OF THE 81ST LEGISLATIVE SESSION
This section lists our legislative priorities that will soon become law.
Business Tax Relief — (HB 4765) I began the 81st session determined to provide some relief to the business community paying the revised franchise tax. Despite a long struggle throughout the session, we passed a bill that raises the small business exemption to exclude all businesses under $1 million in total revenue for two years. The bill doubles the current exemption to $600,000 after those two years pass. This will exempt about 40,000 businesses that are currently paying.
Emergency Back-up Power for Water Systems — (SB 361) During the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, the availability of drinking water was an immediate concern that grew as power outages continued. Nine days after the Hurricane, nearly 250,000 people lacked running water. Within 75 miles of the Texas coast, there are 1287 community water systems. Up to 20% of the water systems that serve approximately 7 million people were out of service for periods of time. Of the 85% of water systems that had generators, roughly 25% failed to function or ran out of fuel. As a result, 1,200 boil water notices were issued and many people simply had no running water.
To ensure that water operations continue during and after any catastrophic event, I filed Senate Bill 361. Upon enactment of this legislation, all community systems within Harris County and Fort Bend County must begin developing plans to ensure sustained water pressure despite an extended power outage.
Massage Parlor Regulations — (HB 3094) I worked on this bill with Representative Patricia Harless to address the recent explosion of massage parlors in Harris County. Sexually Oriented Businesses are increasingly using the front of a massage business, while actually dealing in prostitution and human trafficking. This bill gives counties the authority to regulate these businesses, with the ultimate goal of providing law enforcement more tools to stop these illegal activities from occurring. Prominent members of the legitimate massage industry helped to craft the language of this bill so that we could target only these bad actors, and not legitimate massage establishments.
Reducing Mandates on School Districts — (SB 300) This bill eliminated the school bus evacuation training, and reduced other mandates, including:
- allowing school districts to post their employment policies online instead of posting it on bulletin boards at every campus;
- allowing school districts to seek a waiver to the 22-to-1 class size once per school year, rather than each semester; and
- allowing school districts to establish a long-range energy plan to encourage districts to reduce electricity consumption and save the district money, rather than requiring every district to reduce their electricity consumption by 5% a year.
- Correcting the school bus mandate will save Houston ISD over $500,000 and Cy-Fair ISD over $80,000 a year. In short, passing this common sense legislation will save Texas taxpayers millions of dollars.
Math and Science Teacher Scholarships — (SB 816) I filed this bill to create a loan repayment program for math and science teachers. The bill enables certified math and science teachers to receive $5,000 per year (for up to four years) for each year they teach in a district with a shortage of certified math and science teachers.
Pre-Kindergarten — (HB 130) The bill to create a new full-day pre-kindergarten program received a great deal of debate in both houses before being passed in the final hours of the session:
- created a grant program which would provide a set amount of funding for eligible districts. To be eligible, districts must have participated in the pre-k program and show they have above-average student assessments in the 3rd grade or above.
- While I do not support moving toward universal pre-k in Texas, I voted for this legislation because the pre-k programs in some districts are proving effective for educationally disadvantaged students. I believe this legislation will enable a limited number of districts to provide a full-day pre-k program - and then allow the state to gather data on those programs to see if they are effective or not. We were able to secure 2 million for this program for Spring Branch who had had those funds removed. They have the best program for pre K in the state.
Teacher Retirement System — (HB 4586) Our retired teachers came to the Capitol again to seek an increase in their checks. Given that retired teachers have not seen an increase in over eight years. While I wanted to do more, we did include for a one-time check of $500.
School Accountability — (HB 3) I also worked with Senator Shapiro and Representative Eissler to pass HB 3, the school accountability bill. This bill will:
- eliminate TAKS as the high-stakes test in our schools. End-of-course exams will instead be incorporated to determine proficiency in a course - and will only be a portion of a student's grade;
- incorporate college-readiness standards in our schools;
- incorporate updated career-and-technology courses; and
- ensure our students are better prepared for college or the workforce when they graduate from high school.
Tuition transparency — (SB 1304) In 2005, the legislature passed a law to require 20% of all tuition be set aside for scholarships. Many parents - and legislators - are paying tuition bills for their students and do not realize that 20% of that tuition bill is going to pay for other students' tuition. I filed the bill to require our state colleges and universities to clearly state on each tuition bill how much is being set aside for scholarship. This bill passed both houses and hopefully will encourage the state to fund scholarships and not put it on the backs of students and families struggling to pay their own tuition bills.
Tier 1 Universities — (HB 51) Texas currently has 3 "tier-one" or national research universities - UT/Austin, Texas A&M, and Rice University. I and a number of my colleagues believe we need to bring tier 1 status to more universities in our state. I worked this bill to help bring Tier One University status locally to the University of Houston, but it will also help other universities where our kids attend school. The bill will create a framework to reward performance by the state's public universities, an incentive program to create more tier-one level universities. Seven Texas universities have been classified as "emerging research universities," being in the best position to rise to national research university level. They include: Texas Tech, University of Houston, University of North Texas, UT at Arlington, UT at Dallas, UT at El Paso, and UT at San Antonio.
Student Health Insurance — (SB 1179) Over the interim the Higher Education Committee studied a variety of issues, including student health insurance. Texas leads the nation in the percentage of people lacking health insurance. Most college and university students aged 18 through 23 years have some form of health insurance, but an estimated 36 percent of students in our colleges do not. I filed the bill to require universities to offer students the option of enrolling in a health benefit plan to encourage higher insured student rates.
Coordinated Billing — (SB 531) Medicaid Coordinated Billing is a system enacted in 2008 which aids the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in ensuring that Medicaid is the payor of last resort for acute care claims. The coordinated billing system identifies which Medicaid claimants have additional forms of insurance and requires that their claims be sent first to the party with primary responsibility. SB 531 was filed to expand coordinated billing to apply to all other types of Medicare claims, such as long-term care, when the system becomes cost-effective and feasible
Retail Clinics — (SB 532) Texas physicians are allowed to delegate prescriptive authority of medicine to three physician assistants and advance practice nurses, within certain physical and time limitations. SB 532 was a result of negotiations between interested parties during the interim, to lower the burden on physicians and PA/APN's participating.
SB 532 allows PA/APN's who practice in a physician's primary site more than 50% of the time to be delegated the authority to write prescriptions and practice in a 75 mile radius of the physician's primary site or residence. The legislation allows a physician to delegate prescriptive authority to up to four PA/APN's, requires that physicians register their delegations on-line with the Texas Medical Board (TMB), and allows the TMB to determine situations when certain delegation requirements may be waived. SB 532 will take effect in September.
Criminal Solicitation of Capital Murder — (SB 1832 and SB 1838) These bills addressed a tragic incident that happened to a Katy doctor. Dr. Shelley Ferrill's ex-husband attempted to have Dr. Ferrill, the mother of his two children, killed. His plot was foiled when the person he approached to kill his wife turned him in instead. SB 1832 authorizes a judge to deny parole or mandatory supervision to a defendant who is convicted of criminal solicitation of capital murder, as in this case. It also requires the defendant to serve at least half of their sentence in jail. SB 1838 provides for the involuntary termination of parental rights when one parent attempts to murder the other parent.
Looting — (SB 359) This bill increases penalties for theft, burglary, and assault if committed during an emergency evacuation order or state of disaster. Hurricane Ike brought to light the problem of looting during hurricanes and natural disasters. The goal of increasing penalties one step in disaster situations is to deter looting and other related crimes, so that people may focus on saving their families and homes rather than protecting themselves from criminal elements.
DNA Samples for Convicted Felons — (SB 727) DNA samples are currently taken from convicted felons who are incarcerated. However, felons who are placed on community supervision are not required to provide a DNA sample. This bill, which passed after help from DPS and prosecutors throughout the state, requires DNA samples for all convicted felons, regardless of whether or not they are incarcerated. DNA samples will also be required for those placed on community supervision. Collecting DNA samples of all felons will not only help law enforcement identify criminals, it will also help protect the innocent from being falsely identified.
Escaping Arrest — (SB 1176) Increases penalties for offenders who repeatedly evade arrest. Criminals can often get a better deal if caught only evading arrest, rather than being caught for the crime they first committed. Officers in pursuit of a criminal who is evading arrest are often put in situations of grave danger. This bill increases the penalty for repeated evasion of arrest to a Class A Misdemeanor. This lowers the odds that a criminal can obtain a lesser penalty by escaping, rather than face the penalty for their crime. SB 1176 passed the Senate, and was rolled into another bill in the House that penalizes criminals for evasion.
Driving While Intoxicated — (SB 261) I co-authored SB 261 with Senator Robert Deuell. The bill requires a breathalyzer when an injury is involved. We named this bill after Nicole Lilly Lalime, a young girl from Houston, who was killed when a repeat offender drunk driver struck her in the middle of the day as she was exiting her school bus. Although the bill passed the Senate it died in the House. Fortunately, we were able to pass it as an amendment to another bill.
Texas Armed Service Scholarship Program — (HB 3452) I joined Senator Steve Ogden as coauthor of this bill that will provide scholarships to ROTC students who meet certain requirements and serve in the United States military. It was an honor to be a part of this legislation that will reward college students that seek to serve our country.
This section lists our bills that passed the Senate with bi-partisan support but, because of the slowdown in the House, did not win final approval.
Ultrasound Bill — (SB 182) This bill was a legislative priority that would give additional tools to promote the health and safety of pregnant women. SB 182 passed the full senate, requiring that a physician offer an ultrasound to a woman seeking an abortion. The woman would be given an election form to indicate whether she wanted to receive the ultrasound, view the image, hear the heartbeat, or be given a verbal description of the unborn child.
Charter schools — (SB 1830) I filed this bill to provide for consistent, responsible growth of charter schools. This bill passed through the Senate twice, but unfortunately, died in the House. This bill would have:
- enabled 12 new charters to be granted each year, 2 of those being dedicated to serving special education students and in particular, students with autism
- enabled successful charter schools to expand campuses without going through the bureaucratic approval process; and
- provided financial accountability standards to ensure our charter holders maintain fiscally sound.
Tuition control — (SB 1443) I co-authored this bill with 26 other senators to provide controlled growth in tuition costs for students at our state universities. Since tuition de-regulation, we have seen tuition costs increase dramatically and this bill was an effort to control the rising cost. SB 1443 would have limited tuition increase for four-year institutions and provided students and families an option to pay a higher, but stable tuition rate for four years.
Hemophilia Bills — (SB 1305 and SB 1837) I filed two separate bills to assist with the unique needs of Texans with hemophilia and other bleeding disorders. SB 1305 would have allowed participants in the Hemophilia Assistance Program to use their annual assistance toward payments to enter the Texas High Insurance Risk Pool. SB 1837 would have continued the Texas Bleeding Disorders Advisory Council for another four years.
Ambulatory Surgical Centers — (SB 2151) Some ambulatory surgical centers practice a business model allowing unused surgical space to be leased by a physician or physician group through a user agreement. SB 2151 would have codified this business model, providing that use agreements follow any federal requirements.
Immigration Reform — (SB 2584) This legislation would require local law enforcement to report illegal immigrants who have been arrested and have a previous felony record to federal immigration officers. The goal of this bill was to identify repeat offenders, and ensure that those illegal immigrant repeat offenders were not released back to the streets. This bill passed the Senate 30-1, but died in the House due to slowdown.
This final section lists our priority items that did not win Senate approval and died.
Appraisal Reforms — (SB 700) The issue of appraisal reform gathered a lot of steam leading up to the session and we delivered significant reforms on the appraisal process.
- This bill sought major reforms that would have dramatically reduced appraisal creep and increased transparency on the appraisal system. These changes included revenue caps on local governments, improved appeals options and electronic protest/settlement opportunities throughout the state.
- Many of these reforms were passed in HB 1030, by Callegari including moving the appointment of the ARB to administrative district judges, electronic protest requirements and process improvements that give appraisal protestors more flexibility in fighting unfair appraisals.
- I also worked with House members to pass bills that lower appraisal protest arbitration deposits and lower property tax penalties related to losing the agriculture valuation of a property.
Biennial Appraisals — (SB 276) Prior to the session's start, I joined with Representative Bohac and announced our intention to push for biennial appraisals while maintaining the ten percent cap on increases. This would have created a de facto 5% cap. This bill never got a hearing in the House or the Senate due to strong opposition from county and city government organizations.
Appraisal Caps — (SB 299) I also returned this session with a renewed push for appraisal caps. This bill attracted stiff opposition from local government organizations and was never granted a hearing in either chamber of the legislature. However we did pass a number of other important appraisal reforms. I was proud to author, co-author or sponsor a number of these bills.
Immigration — (SB 357, SB 358) I took several different approaches to addressing the problem of illegal immigration in Texas. Two of these bills died in the Senate, while one passed with broad, bi-partisan support, but died in the House:
- SB 357 would have penalized employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens and operate on a cash-only basis. These businesses are violating not only immigration law, but are also avoiding state taxes and unemployment insurance. This creates an unfair playing field for businesses operating in Texas. A version of this bill passed out of committee, but did not have the support on the Senate floor to proceed any further. We had 19 votes but the 21 vote rule stopped this important legislation.
- SB 358 would have ended the sanctuary city practices that occur throughout the state by allowing citizens to seek a court order requiring their city to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. This bill was also voted out of committee but failed to garner enough support to meet the two-thirds requirement.
Safe Carnival Bill — (SB 1181) I passed this bill out of the Senate which prohibits carnival operators from hiring persons convicted of sexual offenses. There are countless stories in newspapers across the nation about sexual predators preying on unsuspecting carnival goers. A recent article in the Austin-American Statesman removes any doubt that this is a problem that needs to be addressed in Texas. Unfortunately, this bill died in the House.
Judicial Elections — (SB 392) This bill would have provided for the separation of judicial offices from other elected offices on a ballot. Judicial elections would not be subject to a straight party vote under this bill. The intent of this bill was to remove judicial elections, at least one step, from strict partisanship. Unfortunately, although this bill did make it out of committee, there was not enough bipartisan support to meet the two-thirds requirement.
Texas' Message of Sovereignty — (SCR 35) As the federal government continues to expand its role into our daily lives, I was compelled to work with Senator Robert Nichols to joint authored this bill. Senate Concurrent Resolution 35 was a message to the United States Congress that the State of Texas is a sovereign government under the 10th Amendment of the United State Constitution and jealously guards the powers not enumerated and granted to the federal government. This message that federal mandates are no longer welcome was bottled up in committee despite the passage of a similar bill in the House of Representatives.