Week in Review
Ensuring the Safety of Texans
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst held a press conference on Monday in response to the recent nightclub tragedies in Chicago and Rhode Island. To ensure that similar tragedies do not occur in Texas, Dewhurst announced that he has asked the Senate Committee on State Affairs to conduct a review of existing laws and regulations protecting citizens in entertainment and other public facilities. In a letter addressed to the chairman of the committee, he wrote that he is particularly concerned about laws relating to fire safety, including the use of indoor pyrotechnics.
Houston Senator Mario Gallegos, a twenty-two year veteran of the Houston Fire Department, filed legislation on Wednesday that would require the approval of a fire marshal or county sheriff to use pyrotechnics before a gathering of fifty or more people. Gallegos said that the penalty for failure to comply would be a criminal offense. The Senator conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims of recent tragedies and said that it is up to the leadership to make sure that these things don't happen again.
2003 Texas Capitol Schoolhouse
The school bell rang on Wednesday to signal the start of the biennial Texas Capitol Schoolhouse. The Ground Floor Rotunda of the Capitol was transformed into a classroom for two days for children and teachers from all over the state. Diane Boehm, founder of the event, said that the event gives legislators the opportunity to see first hand how schools today are using technology and how important funding for technology is. Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, sponsor of the event since it's inception in 1991, called the children our future leaders. Co-sponsoring Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo said that he stopped by to watch them demonstrate the remarkable things they are doing in schools with technology. "We're learning more from you than you're learning from us," El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh told the children, "and it's our job to make sure that this great, great idea of public education in the state of Texas only gets better."
The Lieutenant Governor told members of the press that although many states have been forced to cut back on Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, he hopes to continue to provide the same coverage for Texans who are currently eligible.
Dewhurst announced that he has made a recommendation to the Senate Finance Committee to delay the implementation of SB 43, passed during the 77th Legislative session to streamline the eligibility process for children's Medicaid, in order to achieve approximately $400 million in savings.
Children with Special Health Care Needs program
The Senate Finance Committee concurred with the House to authorize the spending of $2.5 million in federal funds for the Children with Special Health Care Needs program. Dewhurst said that he will be meet with Governor Rick Perry shortly to implement the program to add 150 children with chronic physical or developmental conditions to the program during this year. According to the Lieutenant Governor, the rest of the $4 million reserved for the program will be earmarked for medically needy children in 2004.
Bills Passed by the Senate
On Wednesday, the Senate approved the passage of it's second bill of the 78th Legislative Session. SB 189, sponsored by Dallas Senator John Carona, requires the appointment of a committee upon receiving a salary grievance from an elected county official.
The Senate passed seven bills in Thursday's session:
- SB 43, sponsored by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would require the Texas Department of Health to report the results on Educating Physicians In your Community, a Houston-based physician-to-physician immunization education pilot program.
- SB 74, also sponsored by Zaffirini, would require the Health and Human Services Commission to report on state and local initiatives to enhance the quality of child care. The bill would also require the commission to establish statewide benchmarks for quality child care and would take effect immediately upon passage.
- SB 121, sponsored by Senator Jon Lindsay of Houston, would add the board of a hospital district health maintenance organization to the list of health care service providers that may discuss financial matters in a closed session.
- SB 164, sponsored by Senator Lindsay, would prohibit the recording and televising of jury deliberations in criminal and civil proceedings.
- SB 191, sponsored by Senator Carona, would raise the penalty for drunk drivers from $125 to $140 to reinstate a suspended license in order to defray associated costs.
- SB 193 will help save the lives of our police officers and Emergency Medical Services personnel, according to the bill's sponsor, Senator Barrientos . The proposed bill would require vehicles to change lanes and reduce their speed when passing a stationary emergency vehicle that has it's flashing lights on. It would be a Class A misdemeanor for any violation that results in bodily injury or property damage.
- SB 330, sponsored by Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, repeals two of the provisions from last session's SB 11 that made state law more restrictive than federal law regarding the conduct of medical research in Texas.