WEEK IN REVIEW
Senate Gives Racial Profiling Bill Near-Unanimous Approval
AUSTIN - A bill to combat the practice of racial profiling by police won quick approval by the Texas Senate on Wednesday.
The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 1074 would create a legal definition of racial profiling and would direct law enforcement agencies to adopt policies and training programs for officers. The bill would also require police to collect and report race and ethnicity statistics during traffic stops and officers' interactions with suspects.
CSSB 1074's author, Dallas Sen. Royce West, said the bill is the product of a lengthy process that has included the input of law enforcement, civil rights and legal groups.
"I wanted to bring together all of the interest groups and see if together -- let me underscore together -- we could craft a compromise bill that is reasonable to all parties," West said. "We've been working on this issue since early January, holding meetings and having ongoing discussions on basically every word in this bill."
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted CSSB 1074 out on March 14. Law enforcement representatives joined witnesses from civil rights groups in testifying in support of the bill during the hearing.
West said the most important component of the bill is installing video cameras in approximately 8,000 police cars. He added that although the camera would also be a useful law enforcement tool, the estimated $35 million cost should not be placed on local law enforcement agencies.
An amendment West sponsored was added to the bill that would delay the implementation of that part of the bill until the state identifies and allocates funds for that purpose. The other provisions of the bill are not affected by the amendment.
Although some senators had questions about the bill's financial impact on local law enforcement, CSSB 1074 was passed quickly and with little debate. Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff was among those who voted for the bill.
"I felt that it was important that not only the members of the Senate but that my office indicate that it is simply not acceptable in the state of Texas for anyone to be detained or arrested based on a racial profile," Ratliff said. "It was important enough that I break my normal procedure and cast a vote (as a member of the Senate)."
Ratliff still represents Senate District 1, but does not ordinarily vote on legislation. The only other vote he has cast this session was for CSSB 1, the General Appropriations Bill.
Senators Jane Nelson of Flower Mound and Jon Lindsay of Houston voted against CSSB 1074.
School Finance Bill Passes After Much Debate
The Senate voted final passage of Senate Bill (SB) 450 on Wednesday, a measure authored by Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan.
The bill would allow schools with declining enrollment numbers to receive less of a funding reduction so the districts can have more time to adjust their budgets. Duncan added an amendment that delays the implementation of the bill until funding is allocated to cover its $25 million annual cost.
According to the Texas Education Agency, 525 school districts had declining enrollment numbers between 1998 and 2000. Of those, 58 percent had a two percent or greater decline. School districts lose $5,000 for each student lost.
The bill first came up for debate in Tuesday's session, but Duncan agreed to leave the bill pending so the amendment could be added after several senators balked at the price tag.
Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan objected to the bill because of its cost, money he said Texas cannot afford this budget cycle.
"There's only so much money that we have this session," Truan said, citing Medicaid expansion, teacher and school employee health insurance and pay raises for prison guards and other state employees as expensive items the state needs to address in the coming budget.
Truan was the most vocal opponent of SB 450, but several others joined him, including Senate Finance Committee Chair Rodney Ellis of Houston and Vice-Chair Chris Harris of Arlington, both of whom voted against bringing the bill up for consideration.
Truan blamed tax cuts passed by the Legislature in 1997 and 1999 for the current tight budget.
"Let's face it, we made a mistake two years ago and four years ago," Truan said, adding that the cuts amounted to too little for individual Texans.
"And now we're having to face the music, and we were left holding the bag, the State of Texas, in the rush to give the governor, who's now the president, the tax relief, the tax cuts."
College Admission Bill Creates a Stir
A bill authored by San Antonio Sen. Jeff Wentworth sparked a lengthy floor debate in the Senate on Monday.
CSSB 974, would require high school students to take at least the recommended curriculum to be eligible for Texas' automatic admission program. The bill would not apply until 2004-2005, which Wentworth said would give any high school that does not offer a pre-college curriculum time to begin doing so.
Texas high school students can choose from three curriculum tracks: a basic curriculum that does not include any college prep courses, a college prep curriculum that is the state-recommended track and an advanced college prep track.
Under state law, high school students who graduate in the top ten percent of their class are eligible for automatic admission to a Texas public college or university.
Wentworth characterized CSSB 974 as a matter of fairness, saying that students who are competing for automatic admission and state grant money should take comparable classes.
"I've had many phone calls and letters from parents (who) are livid with the fact that the Legislature passed such an unfair system," Wentworth said.
But several senators, led by Truan and Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, questioned the bill's consequences. Truan defended the current automatic admission system, adding that the bill would throw up unnecessary roadblocks for many students to attend college.
A floor amendment, sponsored by San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, would create an exemption for students who attend school in a district that does not offer a pre-college curriculum. Van de Putte's amendment was adopted without opposition.
Wentworth left the bill pending without moving for a vote on final passage. Although it's customary in the Senate to suspend rules in order to allow bills to be voted on without being read on the floor on different days, Wentworth never makes a motion for final passage of his bills on the same day as second reading. The bill was passed Tuesday. Barrientos, Truan, Houston Sen. Mario Gallegos and West voted against the bill's passage.
"I think (CSSB 974) is probably a good idea. It seems to me that if students really want to be considered as in the top ten percent, they ought to take a curriculum that prepares them for college," Ratliff said Monday. "There is an unfairness involved when you have some students taking the recommended curriculum, others taking the minimum, and they are ranked based on their grades under different criteria."
Ratliff continued that every student "needs to be playing by the same set of rules," but schools that do not offer a college-prep curriculum should be examined further.
"If we find out that there are schools that are still not offering the recommended curriculum (by 2004), I would think there would be time to repair that," Ratliff said. "But, frankly, I think that any school that by that time is not offering the recommended curriculum, somebody needs to look at the school system. That's a problem if we've got schools out there that are still not offering the recommended curriculum. They're not preparing their kids for college."
Governor Signs DNA Testing Bill
In Monday's final floor action, Duncan won approval of the report by the conference committee formed to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of his bill dealing with DNA testing, CSSB 3. The bill, which was declared an emergency by Governor Rick Perry, would establish procedures for the preservation and use of DNA evidence and post-conviction DNA testing.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved the conference committee report on CSSB 3 and Perry signed the bill into law Thursday. CSSB 3 is the first bill Perry has signed as governor of Texas.
Ratliff Meets With Bush and Thompson
On Thursday, Ratliff and House Speaker James E. "Pete" Laney met with President George W. Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary
Tommy Thompson in Washington, D.C. Senate Finance Committee Chair Rodney Ellis of Houston and House Appropriations Committee Chair Rob Junell of San Angelo also made the trip.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the impact of rising health care costs and increasing Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, case loads on state budgets.
"Rising medical costs are driving the state's budget," Ratliff said. "The increasing cost of health care has hit many areas of state government including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Teacher Retirement System, Employees Retirement System and Medicaid."
Redistricting Committee Hears Testimony in Joint Hearing
The Senate Redistricting Committee held a joint hearing with the House Redistricting Committee to take public testimony on Thursday. More than 100 people attended the hearing, with most of them registering to testify.
The Texas Legislature will draw districts for 31 state senators, 150 state representatives, 30 U.S. representatives and 15 members of the State Board of Education. Thursday's hearing focused on congressional and education districts.
District boundaries are redrawn every ten years, following the U.S. Census. This year, the process is made more difficult by the vast demographic changes that have occurred in Texas in the past ten years.
Thursday is the second time during this legislative session that the committee has held a large hearing with numerous people providing public testimony. The committees traveled throughout Texas during the 76th Interim to hear from the public in various cities.
Other Senate News
In other committee action Thursday, the Health and Human Services Committee heard public testimony on SB 8, a measure authored by Cain addressing gender bias in healthcare reimbursement and SB 43, a bill authored by Laredo Sen. Judith Zaffirini that would simplify the application and eligibility process for children's Medicaid. The Natural Resources Committee took up a pair of bills Thursday. SB 2, authored by Lake Jackson Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, would put in place a statewide water management plan. SB 1541, authored by Duncan, deals with the permanent management of low-level nuclear waste.
In Wednesday's session, the Senate unanimously voted to adopt the Committee Substitute for Senate Concurrent Resolution (CSSCR) 12, authored by El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh. CSSCR 12 calls on the federal government to authorize an additional 18 federal judges for the Texas Mexico border area to help handle the growing number of federal cases in the region.
There are 53 days left in the 77th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. For more information about legislation and the Texas Legislature, please visit www.capitol.state.tx.us.
The Senate stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday.