Week in Review
Insurance Reform Legislation Passed
This week the Senate finally reached a compromise and passed the highly anticipated Committee Substitute to Senate Bill (CSSB) 14, which would regulate homeowners and automobile insurance. The legislation passed by a 28-3 vote after almost four hours of debate during Wednesday’s session. The three Democrats who voted against the bill--Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, Houston Senator Mario Gallegos, and El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh--did so after amendments banning credit scoring and specifying rate reductions were voted down.
The bill’s sponsor, Pasedena Senator Mike Jackson, attributed the bill’s success to the bipartisan coalition of Senators that had one concern--to make insurance affordable and available in the state. The Commissioner of Insurance found insurance rates to be up to twenty-five percent too high and assured Senators during committee hearings that the rates will be lowered if the bill becomes law, said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in a Capitol press conference.
The guiding principle of the legislation is that insurance rates may not be excessive, inadequate, unreasonable, or unfairly discriminatory for the risks to which they apply. The bill would require insurers to file their rates and supporting data with the Commissioner of Insurance, who has 60 days to refuse to accept them, otherwise they will be deemed acceptable. CSSB 14 would allow insurers to write more types of policies, which must also be approved by the Commissioner within 60 days.
The measure also regulates the practice of credit scoring by prohibiting its unfair and discriminatory use and protects consumers with little or no credit as well as those who have disputed credit information due to medical emergencies. CSSB 14 would also require insurers to disclose their credit scoring models under the public information act.
The Senate also adopted another insurance bill on Wednesday, SB 127, which deals directly with the issue of water claims. The legislation, sponsored by Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser, would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of previous water claims on a house when repairs have corrected past problems. The legislation would also require public insurance adjusters to be licensed and to follow strict guidelines and procedures.
Notification of Insurance Changes Required
Insurers would be required to provide written notice of any changes in types of coverages and premium costs to policy holders upon renewal under SB 115, approved unanimously by the Senate on Monday. The legislation introduced by San Antonio Senator Leticia Van de Putte would also grant the Commissioner of Insurance the necessary authority to enforce the proposed measure.
Assisting Identity Fraud Victims
Legislation authored by Dallas Senator Royce West to assist victims of identify fraud was unanimously passed Thursday. Under current law, a person has no way of knowing if someone who was caught committing a crime used a false identity at the time of arrest. SB 566 would require local law enforcement agencies to contact a person whose identity has been misused once the true identity of the person arrested has been determined.
Funding for Dallas Stadium
The Senate passed another bill on Thursday by Senator West by a 25-3 vote. West explained that the purpose of SB 1111 is to help fund a new sports stadium. The measure allows Dallas County voters to decide whether to impose an additional one percent tax on car rentals and hotel room rates.
Texas Schoolchildren’s Nutrition and Health Act
Legislation which Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio said would combat the growing crisis of childhood obesity was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday. According to Lucio, SB 474 would provide sensible guidelines for vending machines in schools and addresses the growing problem of nutrition-related chronic diseases caused by obesity. Lucio said that many overweight children are already developing cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, and certain cancers that are seen among senior citizens.
Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs spoke alongside Lucio at a Capitol press conference on Monday to urge soft drink companies to stop opposing SB 474, the Texas Schoolchildren’s Nutrition and Health Act of 2003. “With the nation and state in the midst of an obesity epidemic that threatens the health of our current and future generations, it is unforgivable that these soft drink companies want to continue to push high-sugar, low nutritive-value products on our kids,” said Combs.
Life Without Parole Option in Capital Sentencing
Lucio also authored a bill which would give jurors the option of life without parole in capital murder cases. SB 348 passed out of the Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday. Lucio said that he supports the death penalty, but believes that juries should also have the ability to take dangerous criminals off the streets forever. Currently, the other option besides the death penalty is life with the possibility of parole after serving forty years. Texas in one of only four states that does not have the life without parole option.
Other Bills Passed the Senate This Week
SB 132, by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would amend the Transportation Code to allow a county commissioners court to replace or repair any existing cattle guard on a county road.
SB 144, sponsored by Waco Senator Kip Averitt, would require governing boards of several health professions to provide their members with information about prescribing pain medications to create a heightened awareness of the abuse and misuse or certain prescription drugs.
CSSB 236, by Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser, would amend the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code to exempt landowners from the hunting license requirement to hunt feral hogs and coyotes on their property when the animals damage property or threaten life.
SB 253, by Palestine Senator Todd Staples, would exempt summer activities conducted at institutions of higher education from the Texas Youth Camp Safety and Health Act provision since they are already required to meet local health and safety regulations.
CSSB 264, sponsored by Brownsville Senator Lucio, would continue the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs for another twelve years and remove language that gives extra points for letters written by local and state elected officials in application evaluations performed by the department.
CSSB 405, sponsored by McAllen Senator Juan Hinojosa, would improve the ability of law enforcement to combat identity theft, provide prevention measures , and assist victims in recovering from identity theft.
CSSB 501, by Victoria Senator Kenneth Armbrister, would clarify language in the Texas concealed handgun license law regarding where a license holder may lawfully carry a gun.
CSSB 618, by El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh, would mandate that the Commissioner of Education reconstitute any school campus rated as low performing for two consecutive years and provide for the creation of special campus intervention teams to decide which educators to retain.
CSSB 693, sponsored by Houston Senator Mario Gallegos, would create statewide standards and procedures to be applied to the use of flame effects and pyrotechnics. In addition to the current National Fire Protection Association Standards, the bill would require additional safeguards, call for licensed operators, and make it mandatory to obtain a permit in order to use such effects.
CSSB 862, by Houston Senator John Whitmire, would require schools to be closed on Memorial Day.
SB 946, sponsored by College Station Senator Steve Ogden, would require a child who receives driver education instruction from a family member to pay a fee and pass a driving test administered by the Texas Department of Public Safety before being issued a driver’s license.
SB 1047, sponsored by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, would exempt a state or local official who is acting in a legislative capacity from being subject to liability for certain actions.
CSSB 1053, by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, would consolidate three existing financial assistance programs that deal with water conservation in rural areas into one program.
CSSB 1060, by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, would provide for improved enforcement of investment securities and require the licensing of any person who acts as an investment advisor.
Nominees Confirmed by the Senate on April 2, 2003
FelipeiT. Alanis, Travis County.
Justice, PhylisiJ. Speedlin, Bexar County.
Judge, RandalliW. Wilson, Harris County.
Judge, KentiC. Sullivan, Harris County.
Member, Charles "Chuck" Beatty, Ellis County;
Member, MarjorieiB. Craft, Dallas County;
Member, Burle Pettit, Lubbock County;
Member, Claude Daniel Smith,iJr., Collin County.
Member, Cecilia Phalen Abbott, Travis County;
Member, Adele M. Quintana, Moore County;
Member, Troy W. Simmons, Gregg County;
Member, JamesiM. Windham, Harris County.
Member, JamesiW. Fonteno,iJr., Harris County;
Member, Jarvis Vincent Hollingsworth, Fort Bend County;
Member, GregiS. Poole, Montgomery County.
Chair, George Harrison McCleskey, Lubbock County.
Member, MaryiE. Ceverha, Dallas County;
Member, RaymondiR. Hannigan, Bexar County;
Member, Amanullah Khan, Dallas County.
Member, CaryiP. Yates, Fort Bend County.
Member, MonicaiA. Gonzalez, Bexar County;
Member, RonaldiD. Krist, Harris County;
Member, JosephiB. Morris, Dallas County.
Member, Linda Ryan Butter, Gregg County;
Member, JohniF. Landgraf, Ector County;
Member, MelindaiC. McMichael, M.D., Travis County;
Member, Patty Williams, Parker County.
Member, KareniL. Gordon, Calhoun County;
Member, Dora Lourdes Ochoa-Rutledge, Bexar County;
Member, George Scott, Jr., Lubbock County.
Member, AllaniB. Polunsky, Bexar County.
Member, Ernest Aliseda, Hidalgo County;
Member, JosephiF. Berry, Brazoria County;
Member, JackiG. Blaz, Dallas County;
Member, JudithiH. Devenport, Midland County;
Member, Deborah Ellison Farris, Dallas County;
Member, Janet Woodward Holland, Palo Pinto County;
Member, SteveniF. Landon, Tarrant County;
Member, Virginio Ortega, Lubbock County;
Member, Craig Thompson, Harris County.
Presiding Officer, L.iSuzan Kedron-Lyn, Dallas County.