Week in Review
The Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini reported on Thursday that they are increasingly optimistic that the Senate will pass an appropriations bill to fund all essential services. They said that they are working hard to preserve funding for core programs, such as children's health insurance, Medicaid, public education, higher education, prisons, and mental health and mental retardation, so that the vulnerable in our society are not at risk. Dewhurst and Zaffirini both met with disabled visitors in the Capitol to hear their concerns on funding health and human services programs.
The Senate Finance Committee met this week to consider workgroup budget recommendations for agencies classified under the following articles: Public Safety and Criminal Justice, Higher Education and Public Education, General Provisions, and Health and Human Services.
Rainy Day Fund is the "Right" Approach
Former Senator John N. Leedom sent a letter to the Lieutenant Governor's office Thursday assuring him that it is the "right" approach to use the Rainy Day Fund to assist in balancing the budget. Leedom helped create the legislation that created the Economic Stabilization Fund, which is commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund. Dewhurst explained that 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 is exactly the current situation. Zaffirini stood by Dewhurst, saying that the majority of the Senators believe that it is time to dip into the fund.
The Senate approved of two measures authored by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro on Monday that she said will aggressively and actively work to prevent Texas students from dropping out by providing individualized attention and creating incentives for students at-risk of dropping out. SB 976 would establish a Middle College Education Pilot Program which combines high school and college level course work and allows students to receive a high school diploma and associate degree upon completion of the program. The bill would also provide at-risk students with flexible scheduling and mentor programs and allow the Commissioner of Education to impose sanctions on districts that have been rated as academically unacceptable due to high dropout rates.
SB 1108, also sponsored by Senator Shapiro, would provide personal graduation plans for struggling high school students and require the development of an on-line diagnostic assistance program to help students prepare for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills 11th grade exit-level exam.
Keeping Registered Sex Offenders Out of the Classroom
Shapiro said that the passage of SB 1109 will ensure the further protection of Texas schoolchildren. Her bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Thursday, would immediately remove a convicted sex offender whose victim is under the age of eighteen from any contact with students and revoke the convicted educator's teacher certification to prevent them from teaching again. According to Shapiro, a recent search uncovered that sixty-seven certified educators were listed in the Department of Public Safety's registered sex offenders, unknown to the State Board for Educator Certification, who licences educators.
Minute of Silence, Pledges Mandated in Schools
Under legislation passed by a 27-4 vote of the Senate on Wednesday, Texas public school students would be required to start their day by reciting the pledges of allegiance to the United States and Texas flags followed by a minute of silence. Sponsor of SB 83, San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, explained that a student may use the sixty seconds for silent prayer, meditation, or reflection. The bill includes 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.
Teacher Paperwork Reduction Act
Legislation authored by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini that she said will give teachers more time to teach was successfully passed by the Senate Thursday. According to Zaffirini, SB 13 would limit the amount of paperwork required of public school teachers to only essential reports related to the health, safety, or welfare of a student; grades; academic progress; attendance and their teaching ability.
Corporate Integrity Legislation Approved
Thursday the Senate approved of the second bill in a three-part series aimed at addressing the issue of corporate integrity and supported by Attorney General Greg Abbott . SB 1059, sponsored by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, 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 legislation would also require companies that do business with the state to reveal any financial irregularities, submit to regular audits, and face penalties for violations to the state.
Making Insurance More Affordable, Accessible
Waco Senator Kip Averitt said that legislation approved by the full Senate on Wednesday "goes a long way towards progressing the needs of the working people of Texas so that they and their employers can afford health insurance in the private sector." SB 10 would allow small businesses to form group health cooperatives in order to obtain health coverage for employees with benefits similar to those large business enjoy. The bill would provide tax incentives for insurance companies that chose to participate and would effectively lower the cost of insurance for small employers, according to Averitt.
Other legislation passed by the Senate this week:
- SB 16, sponsored by Palestine Senator Todd Staples, would allow a school district to use compensatory education funds for mentoring programs that aim to further the goal of assisting at-risk youth.
- Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 43, by College Station Senator Steve Ogden, would allow voters to decide if the State Constitution should be amended to allow the State Board of Education to lend the Texas Department of Transportation up to $1 billion dollars from the Permanent School Fund for acquiring land to build roads on.
- SJR 44, also by Ogden, would allow the legislature to provide for the issuance of bonds secured by the state highway fund for highway improvement projects if approved by the voters.
- SB 265, by Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, would continue the State Board of Educator Certification for twelve years, remove the State Board of Education's oversight, and provide for fingerprinting of applicants.
- SB 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 382, sponsored by Victoria Senator Kenneth Armbrister, 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.
- SB 388, by Ellis, would create the Texas Real Property Interim Committee to sell or close underused state agency field offices and provide for allocation of the proceeds of the sale of such real property.
- SB 392, by The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams, would require water districts to once again comply with certain Texas Tax Code requirements.
- 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, 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 533, by Dallas Senator John Carona, would delete all references to credit bureaus from the Finance Code since they are already regulated in the Business and Commerce Code and would require debt collectors to make written records of disputes. It would also require third-party debt collectors to cease collection efforts until disputed items are determined to be accurate. Also, debt collectors would be required under the bill to tell a consumer during an initial conversation that information obtained will be used to collect a debt and to state that the communication is from a debt collector in subsequent communications.
- 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 602, by Senator Ellis, would add to the list of people about whom criminal background information may be obtained by the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services a person who is an employee, volunteer, or an applicant volunteer of a children's advocacy center.
- SB 611, by Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, would prohibit the display of an individual's social security number on cards or other devices necessary to access products and services.
- SB 663, by College Station Senator Steve Ogden, would add an additional $2.50 to the consolidated court costs to help fund the Center for Transportation Safety, which studies accident factors and develops ways to reduce deaths on Texas highways, and to help fund increased traffic enforcement where needed.
- 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 774, sponsored by Senator Averitt, would provide the necessary statutory framework to ensure transactions relating to revolving credit accounts secured by an interest in real property are handled accurately by lending institutions.
- SB 804, by Senator Zaffirini, would extend accommodations and temporary work assignments to pregnant commissioned officers of the Department of Public Safety.
- SB 909, by Senator Lucio, would prohibit certain elimination tournaments of combative sports , 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 1063, by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, would require the Department of Public Safety to confirm that all commercial motor carriers whose insurance has been cancelled are not operating.
- SB 1065, by Senator Shapiro, 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.
- CSSB 1090, by Dallas Senator John Carona, would create a mechanism to regulate the registration of professionals who work on elevators and set forth inspection requirements.
- CSSB 1105, by Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser, would provide greater opportunities and protections for purchasers of Texas Timeshares and increases the Texas Real Estate Commission's flexibility in regulating the timeshare industry.
Nominees Confirmed by the Senate on April 9, 2003
Member, ThomasiM. Anderson, Fort Bend County Member, Tivy Whitlock, Bexar County Member, NilaiT. Wipf, Cameron County
Member, JamesiA. Cox,iJr., Travis County
Member, Erle Allen Nye, Dallas County
Member, John David White, Harris County
President, Sandra Lee Jensen,iD.C., Dallas County
Member, Marcia Olivia Daughtrey, Smith County
Member, Paul Hinton Dickerson,iJ.D.,iC.P.A., Brazoria County
Member, David Alan Sime, El Paso County
Member, GonzaloiR. Gallegos, Bexar County
Member, David Gutierrez, Lubbock County
Member, Horace Theodore Montgomery, Moore County
Member, Michael M. Seale,iM.D., Harris County
Member, WallaceiG. Klussmann, Llano County
Member, Lydia Rangel Saenz, Dimmit County
Member, Michael Cooper Waters, Taylor County
Member, Beverly Barron, Ector County
Member, JohniF. Longoria, Nueces County
Presiding Officer, C.iRobert Keeney,iJr., Harris County
Member, Lars Andreas Anderson, Denton County
Member, Ann Elizabeth Lemke,iPh.D., El Paso County
Member, CharlesiA. Siburt, Taylor County
Member, James Richard Pendell, El Paso County
Member, Janace Pope Ponder, Potter County
Member, Lucy Rubio, Nueces County
Member, Severita Sanchez, Webb County
Member, Cheryl Lee Shannon, Dallas County