Dewhurst, Wentworth, and Ellis Address Topics of Budget, Prayer, and Insurance
Austin - The Senate honored the former press secretary for President Lyndon B. Johnson and two Texas governors in a memorial resolution today brought forth by Mount Pleasant Senator Bill Ratliff. Senate Resolution 591 extends sincere condolences to the family of George Eastland Christian, Jr., who died of lung cancer on November 27, 2002, at the age of 75. Eight Senators spoke in support of the resolution and referred to George Christian as a legendary sage and a giant in Texas history.
Texas life insurance companies are still collecting premiums on policies that charge African-American and Hispanic Texans higher rates based on their race and Houston Senator Rodney Ellis says it's time for them to stop. Earlier this week Ellis attached an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 14, the insurance regulation bill passed by the Senate last week, that would do just that. At a Capitol press conference today, Ellis said that the Senate did the right thing by approving his amendment. Although the practice of charging African-Americans and Hispanics up to 150% more than whites for burial policies was prohibited by legislation passed in 1972, it did not prevent life insurance companies from continuing to collect inflated premiums on policies already in effect.
San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth introduced legislation that would require Texas public school students to start their day by observing a minute of silence following the recitation of the pledges of allegiance to both the United States and Texas flags. "I can't imagine anyone that would be opposed during these very tough times to let our youngsters take a moment of silence in school," said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. Wentworth explained that the measure does not mandate prayer during the moment of silence and said that students can also use the time for reflection or meditation, so long as they are quiet. Included in the Committee Substitute to Senate Bill (CSSB) 83 is an opt-out provision that would require a school to excuse a student from reciting the pledge upon written request from the student's parent or guardian. The bill was passed to engrossment.
Following today's session, Dewhurst commented on a news release from State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn reporting that sales tax collections for the month of March are 2.3 percent lower than March of last year. The Lieutenant Governor called her statement accurate and said that it is something that needs to be followed very carefully. The most important element to watch, according to Dewhurst, is the franchise tax collection, due on May 15th. On an optimistic note, Dewhurst said that the total tax collections for oil, natural gas, and insurance premiums are exceeding the decline in sales tax and motor vehicle tax.
The following bills were passed by the Senate today:
- SB 16, sponsored by Palestine Senator Todd Staples, which would allow a school district to use compensatory education funds for mentoring programs that aim to further the goal of assisting at-risk youth.
- CSSB 273, sponsored by El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh, would continue the three-person Court Reporters Certification Board for another twelve years and formalize various board processes in accordance with recommendations by the Texas Sunset Commission.
- SB 408, by Greenville Senator Bob Deuell, would increase the penalty from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor for a terroristic threat that places any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury in certain situations.
- SB 490, also by Senator Shapleigh, would direct the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and the Interagency Council on Early Childhood Intervention to develop a plan to care for children younger than seven years of age who have mental illness and to coordinate, when practical, activities and services involving children with mental illness and their families.
- SB 568, by Dallas Senator Royce West, would expand the geographic jurisdiction of licensed peace officers who work for a medical corporation to include the perimeter area not farther than one mile around the property owned by the medical corporation.
- SB 656, sponsored by Fort Worth Senator Kim Brimer, would authorize a municipality to require the removal of an on-premise sign not later than the first anniversary of the date the business, person, or activity that the sign identifies or advertises ceases to operate on the premises on which the sign is located.
- SB 804, by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would extend accommodations and temporary work assignments to pregnant commissioned officers of the Department of Public Safety.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 9, 2003, at 11:00 a.m.