The Senate passed today a measure intended to make schools safer by instituting new emergency preparedness measures, Senate Bill 11, by Palestine Senator Todd Staples. Staples said that in the wake of such events like the Columbine shooting and the recent high school shooting in Minnesota, parents are increasingly concerned about their children's safety while at school. "I'm convinced that our schools are doing a good job being prepared to detect, deter, and respond to acts of terrorism," said Staples. "But we know this is an ever-changing environment, the world we live in today. Senate Bill 11 takes a good step forward to ensure that every child in Texas has the best access to the most secure schools." SB 11 would require every district in Texas to adopt an emergency management plan. This plan would have to include provisions for employee training, mandatory emergency drills, and steps to improve coordination with local law enforcement and emergency response officials. Also, every school in Texas would submit to a security audit every three years to ensure compliance with safety ordinances. The bill would also create new safety standards schools could use when building new facilities or upgrading existing ones. Although there is no evidence to suggest Texas is at risk for a school-violence incident, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said the state must be ready. "I think it is very important that we plan - plan for something that might never happen - and that's why I asked Senator Staples to work on school safety," said Dewhurst.
The Senate also passed a bill today intended to encourage university students to take more hours per semester or enroll in summer programs. Senate Bill 32, by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would permit state universities and colleges to implement a flat-rate tuition, rather than charge by the semester hour. It would also permit schools to lower the cost of summer classes. By allowing this, said Zaffirini, students will be more likely to graduate in four years, which could help to reduce the cost of higher education to the state and to parents.
A measure that would increase the availability of Medicaid to women seeking preventative health or family planning services was passed by the Senate today. SB 747, by Dallas Senator John Carona, would raise the eligibility of Medicaid to women whose yearly income is 185 percent of the poverty level, or about $34,000. The legislation would allow for a variety of total women's health treatments, including well-woman exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings, cholesterol and blood pressure check-ups, and birth control.
The Senate honored a group of soldiers who survived one of the worst prisoner of war atrocities of World War II. In 1942, a group of 76,000 captured American soldiers was forced to march 55 miles over 12 days with almost no food or water. The Bataan Death March, as it is known, claimed the lives of nearly 20,000 soldiers who died from exposure, exhaustion, dehydration, and cruelty at the hands of their captors. Saturday will mark the 63rd anniversary of that horrific event, and today the Senate hosted 10 survivors of the march. Many Senators rose to thank the survivors for their sacrifice and bravery in the face of overwhelming hardship.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, April 7, at 8 a.m. to consider the Local and Uncontested Calendar, and will meet in regular session tomorrow at 10 a.m.