Dewhurst and Zaffirini Discuss Budget, Rainy Day Fund, and Reducing Paperwork for Teachers
Austin - Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, Vice-Chair of the Finance Committee, are increasingly optimistic that the Senate will pass a budget to fund all essential services. These include public education, the Foundation School Program, higher education, prisons, mental health and mental retardation programs, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Dewhurst said that they are working hard to provide all the funding for these essential services so that the most vulnerable in our society are not at risk. Following today's session, Dewhurst and Zaffirini met with disabled people visiting the Capitol to share their concerns on funding for health and human services programs, which will be discussed by the Finance Committee tomorrow.
In other budget news, former Senator John N. Leedom, author of the legislation that created the Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund, approves of its use to assist in balancing the budget. Leedom called it the "right" approach in a letter sent to the Lieutenant Governor today. Dewhurst said that he had reviewed the constitutional amendment concerning the fund and it states that it should be used primarily to prevent or eliminate temporary cash deficiencies in the state's general revenue. The fund was established to create a cash reserve in the event that actual revenues received by the state in the biennium are less than the amount previously anticipated by the Comptroller of Public Accounts, which Dewhurst says is exactly the current situation. "It's not only raining, it's storming," said Zaffirini, adding that the majority of the Senators believe that it is time to dip into the Rainy Day Fund.
Zaffirini also spoke on the successful passage today of Senate Bill (SB) 13, aimed at limiting the amount of paperwork required of public school teachers. "Basically they will have time to teach and they will not have to spend twelve hours a week on unnecessary paperwork," said Zaffirini, who also said that the legislation is strongly supported by teachers who have been complaining about unnecessary and redundant paperwork for years. They would still be required to create essential reports related to grades, academic progress, attendance and their teaching ability, according to Zaffirini. Dewhurst called the legislation an item close to his heart and said that it was one of the items he talked about when he was campaigning for Lieutenant Governor.
Another education measure approved by the Senate today was SB 1109, which author Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano said will further protect Texas schoolchildren. The legislation would revoke the teacher certification of a convicted sex offender whose victim is under the age of eighteen. "There is currently a disconnect between the courts who convict criminals, the State Board of Educator Certification who licenses educators, and local districts who employ those professionals," said Shapiro, "We cannot afford to allow this type of divide to exist when the safety of our children is at stake." Under SB 1109, any convicted educator would be removed from any contact with students immediately.
Legislation aimed at addressing the issue of corporate integrity was also passed by the Senate today. SB 1059 is the second in a three-part series of bills sponsored by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis and supported by Attorney General Greg Abbott. One of the main provisions of Ellis' bill is that it would create a Corporate Integrity Unit within the Attorney General's Office to assist in the investigation and prosecution of corporate crime and to serve as a clearinghouse for information. The bill would also require companies that do business with the state to reveal financial irregularities, submit to regular audits, and face penalties for violations to the state.
Other legislation passed by the Senate today include:
- SB 382, sponsored by Victoria Senator Kenneth Armbrister, which would amend the Insurance Code to make licensed athletic trainers eligible for direct reimbursement from insurance providers in the same manner as currently provided to other health care practitioners. Armbrister said that there are over 16,000 licensed athletic trainers in Texas and they cannot currently bill insurance companies directly for their services.
- SB 909, sponsored by Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, concerns combative sports such as boxing and the safety of participants. The bill would prohibit certain elimination tournaments, clarify licensing procedures for participants, improve safety provisions for contestants, establish a medical advisory committee, and increases the enforcement authority of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
- SB 1065, by Senator Shapiro, addresses the increasing turnover rate for Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworkers. SB 1065 would require the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services to implement a pilot program to assist specific regions in increasing the enrollment of CPS caseworkers.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 14, 2003, at 1:30 p.m.