Week in Review
Senate Bill (SB) 310 will become the first legislation to be enacted by the 78th Legislature if Governor Rick Perry approves the bill, which requires insurers in Texas to file their rates and supporting data with the commissioner of insurance on a one-time basis. In Thursday's session, the Senate unanimously concurred with the amendments added by the House to SB 310. One amendment clarifies that only insurers with a five percent or more share of the residential property insurance market must file. The other amendments require insurers to explain underwriting guidelines and to disclose their losses in investments in the stock market.
Although it will be about thirty days before the official numbers from the insurance companies will be available, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst said that the commissioner promised them a preliminary report in several weeks. "Whether we look at a rate making procedure or we're looking at a roll back, we all want to see homeowners insurance rates be as low as possible here in the state," said Dewhurst. Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser, chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, hopes that the data obtained from SB 310 will show that insurance rates are high and that a rollback is warranted to bring them down.
Testimony concerning homeowners and automobile insurance rates continued Tuesday and Thursday in hearings of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. Representatives from state agencies, insurance companies, and consumer organizations, as well as concerned homeowners, have appeared before the committee to speak on SB 14 and SB 400. SB 14 would require insurers of homeowners and automobile insurance to file rates and supporting data with the insurance commissioner, who would then have sixty days to reject the rates before they become effective.
San Antonio Senator Leticia Van de Putte's SB 400 would require insurers to roll rates back to the levels that were in effect on January 1, 2001, and require them obtain prior approval by the commissioner of insurance before changing their rates. SB 400 would also prohibit the use of credit scoring for underwriting and rating, require insurance companies to disclose underwriting guidelines, and authorize the Texas Department of Insurance to adopt and approve insurance rating manuals. Van de Putte said that if the bill passes, it will give homeowners a deserved relief and will provide them an average refund of $436.
Health Insurance Accessibility
Senator Kip Averitt of Waco filed SB 10 on Thursday. He said the bill can help small businesses obtain health insurance for their employees by allowing them to combine together as a single entity to negotiate coverage and receive the savings that large businesses enjoy. As an incentive to insurance providers, the bill would provide a two percent tax credit to cover previously uninsured persons. The proposed legislation is supported by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Governor Rick Perry, along with several other senators.
Increasing Capacity in Prison System
Despite the increasing prison population and a seven percent reduction in their budget this fiscal year, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, is working towards freeing four thousand prison beds. The Lieutenant Governor applauded the agency and supports its plans to convert a youth facility in Bryan back in a transfer facility for adult inmates, shorten the substance abuse treatment program from nine to six months, and possibly add more than one thousand beds to existing facilities. Dewhurst said that he refuses to compromise public safety.
Agencies Criticized for Not Complying with HUB Requirements
Senator Van de Putte and Dallas Senator Royce West spoke at a Capitol press conference on Monday to criticize the eleven agencies that are not reaching out to minority-owned businesses, known as Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs). Senator Van de Putte said that they will be wary of trusting agencies with other fiscal and statutory responsibilities when they cannot even comply with current laws. Senator West said that he will ask the Legislative Budget Board to act on a provision passed during the last legislative session which could revoke an agency's delegated purchasing authority if it is determined that it has not attempted to comply after one year of monitoring.
A State Auditor's Report released on Friday, February 14th, 2003, concluded that nine out of ten agencies audited failed to comply with HUB requirements and a follow-up on two agencies determined that they continued to be in noncompliance. According to the report, four of the agencies, including one previously audited, did not make a "good-faith effort" to give minority-owned businesses the opportunity to compete for state contracts.
Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound filed two bills this week, which she said will "beautify Texas roads and make them more user friendly to travelers and tourists." SB 512 would prohibit the construction of any new billboards along Texas roads and prevent repairing or relocating any destroyed billboards. Nelson said that SB 511 would authorize the Texas Department of Transportation to develop a program to designate highways as State Scenic Byways and apply for federal grants.
Bexar County Railroad
The Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed its first bill, SB 15, out of committee on Thursday. San Antonio Senator Frank Madla's legislation authorizes the Texas Department of Economic Development to grant $15 million to build a secondary rail line in South Bexar County for the new Toyota plant.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 24, 2003, at 1:30 p.m.
Nominees Confirmed on Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Railroad Commission of Texas:
Commissioner, Victor G. Carrillo, Taylor County
Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board:
Member, Blair Calvert Fitzsimons, Bexar County
Member, Edward Torres, Bexar County
Court of Appeals for the First Court of Appeals District:
Justice, George C. Hanks, Harris County
Justice, Sherry Jarrell Radack, Harris County
Court of Appeals for the Seventh Court of Appeals District:
Justice, James T. Campbell, Randall County
5th Judicial District Court, Bowie and Cass Counties:
Judge, Ralph Kolb Burgess, Bowie County
345th Judicial District Court, Travis County:
Judge, Patrick O. Keel, Travis County
Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists:
Member, William Kevin Coleman, Dallas County
Member, Kelly Krenz Doe, Galveston County
Member, Shiela Burnette Hall, Lubbock County
Member, Murray Hudson Milford, Brazos County
Member, Edward Garrett Miller, Bexar County
Member, Rene D. Pena, El Paso County
Member, Danny R. Perkins, Harris County
Member, Kimberly M. Robinson, Harris County
Member, Gordon D. Ware, Nueces County
Texas Historical Commission:
Member, Jane Cook Barnhill, Washington County
Member, Shirley Welch Caldwell, Shackelford County
Member, Lareatha H. Clay, Dallas County
Member, Frank W. Gorman, El Paso County
Member, David Alfred Gravelle, Dallas County
Member, Frank Daniel Yturria, Cameron County
Task Force on Indigent Defense:
Member, Eduardo Arredondo, Burnet County
Member, Jon H. Burrows, Bell County
Member, Knox Fitzpatrick, Dallas County
Member, Olen Underwood, Montgomery County
Member, Benny Glen Whitley, Tarrant County
Texas Judicial Council:
Member, Lance Richard Byrd, Dallas County
Member, Delia Elisa Martinez-Carian, Bexar County
Administrative Judicial Region, Third:
Presiding Judge, B. B. Schraub, Guadalupe County
Administrative Judicial Region, Fifth:
Presiding Judge, Darrell Hester, Cameron County
Administrative Judicial Region, Seventh:
Presiding Judge, Morn Valdean Rucker, Midland County
Administrative Judicial Region, Eighth:
Presiding Judge, Roger Jeffrey Walker, Tarrant County
Texas Board of Professional Land Surveying:
Member, Arthur W. Osborn, Smith County
Member, David Gregory Smyth, Medina County
Member, Raul Wong, Dallas County
Texas State Library and Archives Commission:
Member, Diana Rae Hester Cox, Randall County
Member, Sandra Gunter Holland, Atascosa County
Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation:
Member, Frank S. Denn, Montgomery County
Member, Gina Parker, Mclennan County
Texas Military Facilities Commission:
Member, Delores Ann Harper, Bexar County
Member, Michael H. Taylor, Angelina County
Motor Vehicle Board of the Texas Department of Transportation:
Member, Frank Breazeale, Upshur County
Member, Stuart J. Hamilton, Bexar County
Member, Patricia Fincher Harless, Harris County
Member, James Robert Leonard, Taylor County
State Commission on Judicial Conduct:
Member, Rolland Craten Allen, Nueces County
Member, Faye W. Barksdale, Tarrant County