Dewhurst Reports on Progress of Insurance Bill and Budget Talks
Austin - Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst today reported that the Senate is "very, very close" to agreeing on the details of Senate Bill (SB) 14, which mandates comprehensive reform of the Texas insurance industry. The Lieutenant Governor hopes the Senate will have a bill ready by early next week. Dewhurst said that he would prefer to see the bill regulate both homeowners and automobile insurance policies. He wants the bill to ensure that rate increases are justified and that the regulations are fair to consumers and insurance companies.
Dewhurst also spoke on the progress of the budget. In outlining the process, he said that the Senate needs to reach a consensus on essential services and then find non-tax revenues to balance the budget without raising taxes. "I don't think it's good for the state of Texas, I don't think it's good for economic development, I don't think it's good for the long term well-being of the state to add taxes right now," said Dewhurst. He will be meeting with some of the Senators, the Governor, and the Speaker of the House to reach a consensus on additional non-tax revenues and said that all of the measures laid out for consideration have been used before. Some of the essential services Dewhurst is committed to preserving are the Foundation School Program, higher education, mental health/mental retardation programs, prisons, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
Senate Joint Resolution 22, sponsored by Arlington Senator Chris Harris, was passed today and would allow voters to decide if the interest rate ceilings on certain commercial loans should be removed. El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh had some concerns over Amendment 1 to the bill, which makes the exemption applicable only to loans exceeding $7 million, if secured by real property, and $250,000 if not.
Legislation authored by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis aimed at empowering victims of identity theft received approval by the Senate today. SB 473 would allow a consumer who has had their identity stolen to place a security freeze on his or her credit report for a reasonable fee. The measure also curbs over-reliance on social security numbers by limiting their use for identification.
Also passed today was SB 660, authored by Senator Steve Ogden of College Station, was also passed by the Senate as an effort to deter speeding. The legislation would increase the fine for exceeding the posted speed limit by twenty-five miles an hour or more to not less than $200 and not more than $500. Currently, this violation is punishable by a fine of no more that $200. The bill would also mandate that a portion of the revenue generated by the increased fine be used for a traffic safety program.
The Senate also approved the following legislation in today's session:
- Committee Substitute to Senate Bill (CSSB)86, sponsored by San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, would require high school students to take a required curriculum to be eligible for automatic admission to a Texas institution of higher education.
- SB 314, by Houston Senator Kyle Janek, would transfer the Medical Transportation Program from the Texas Department of Health to the Health and Human Services Commission and require it to contract with a statewide transportation broker.
- CSSB 333, by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would increase the educational requirements for Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselors.
- SB 441, by Senator Harris, allows airports to require a license for anyone soliciting ground transportation business, such as taxis and limousines.
- CSSB 540, by The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams, would authorize a county commissioners court to reduce the speed limit on a road within a district that is not part of the state highway system or within an incorporated municipality to less than 30 miles per hour.
- CSSB 597, sponsored by Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock, would transfer the regulation of for-profit legal service contracts to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
- SB 716, sponsored by Houston Senator Jon Lindsay, would allow eligible counties to construct, operate, and maintain a toll road project by amending the Transportation Code.
- SB 737, by McAllen Senator Juan Hinojosa, would exempt from jury service a member of the United States military force serving on active duty and deployed to a location away from the person's home station.
- SB 900, by Addison Senator Florence Shapiro, would amend the Education Code to specify what costs should be reported as administrative and which costs may be considered instructional.
The Senate will meet Thursday, March 27, 2003, at 8:00 a.m. for the hearing of Local and Uncontested Bills and will reconvene at 10:00 a.m.