Budget Conference Committee Continues to Work Out Differences
Austin - Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, along with Senators Judith Zaffirini of Laredo and Teel Bivins of Amarillo, reported on the status of the budget bill following today's session. The conference committee working on the appropriations bill is at a momentary impasse, said Bivins, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Dewhurst said that the Senate has made a counterproposal to the one submitted by the House. The Senators are not asking for new dollars, but rather to move some of them around, said Dewhurst. The major articles of discord between the two proposals deal with funding for health and human services and education.
According to Dewhurst, the Senate feels strongly about maintaining eligibility for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program at 200 percent of the poverty level and continuing coverage for those that meet the eligibility requirements. The version proposed by the House would set the eligibility level at 165 percent, which some Senators claim will knock more than 10,000 children out of the programs.
Zaffirini said that the Senate group working on health and human services does not support the closure of any state hospitals or schools, as proposed in the House's version.
Additionally, the Senate wants to see more money put into funding public and higher education than was appropriated by the House, said Dewhurst. He called education critical for the economic development for the state.
Dewhurst said that although the House and Senate have different priorities, they still have the same goal of making sure that the budget is fair and that our essential services are funded. The conference committee will continue working to bridge the differences between the House and Senate versions.
Legislation aimed at stopping the increasing problem of human trafficking was passed unanimously by the Senate today. The amended version of House Bill (HB) 2096, sponsored in the Senate by Brownsville Senator Lucio, would add a section to the Penal Code making human trafficking a felony offense. The bill also makes it a crime to knowingly stow a person in a truck or trailer.
Recently, a group of about 100 smuggled immigrants was discovered abandoned in the back of a semi-trailer in Victoria. Nineteen of the undocumented Mexican and Central American nationals have died. Lucio said that events like this are becoming all too common in Texas. "Through this bill, Texas is taking a step in the right direction to shop this deplorable treatment of human beings," said Lucio.
A comprehensive homeland security package received the approval of the Senate today. The Committee Substitute to House Bill (CSHB) 9 would add a new section to the Government Code dealing with homeland security. The bill directs the Governor to establish a statewide homeland security strategy and create a Critical Infrastructure Protection Council to complement the federal plan in coordinating, anticipating and responding to an emergency. This bill ensures increased cooperation between first responders and security agencies to make sure that everything is being done to detect and to deter acts of terrorism before they occur, said Dewhurst.
The Senate approved final passage of HB 15 during today's session by a 21-10 vote, the Woman's Right to Know Act. Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos took the opportunity to speak out against the bill before the final vote. "This bill is limiting women's choices," said Barrientos. He called the measure "cruel", saying that it will limit the availability and increase the cost of abortion and, in some instances, provide women with inaccurate information. Democrats and Republicans voted on both sides of the issue.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, May 22, 2003, at 11:00 a.m.