80TH LEGISLATIVE SESSION ENDS
(AUSTIN) — After 140 days, the Senate adjourned sine die, ending legislative action until 2009. Barring a special session, legislators will spend the next year and a half working on interim charges, preparing for the big issues of the 81st Session, and monitoring the changes they made to state law this year. Though much of the media coverage in the last month has been focused on leadership issues in the House, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said the Senate accomplished many of its goals through the waning days of the session. "I think that we got a lot of really good important legislation passed, and I hope the people of Texas realize that, and don't get confused by some of the back-and-forth that was going on in the House," he said.
The only bill the Legislature has to pass, the state budget, was approved by both chambers late Sunday night. The $152.5 billion budget puts more money toward border security, education, Medicare, and family protective services. Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden said Senators can be proud to say they voted for the spending bill. "This is a responsible budget, that will meet the needs of Texas," he said.
In the health care arena this session, the Legislature approved a Medicaid reform bill, aimed at coping with the ever increasing share of the state budget directed to health care costs. It would attempt to increase medical insurance coverage by creating a fund to cover more uninsured, and allowing the state to share the cost of premiums with companies and individuals under a three-share system pilot program. The Legislature also approved a Children's Health Insurance Program bill that would add coverage for more than 100,000 eligible children. Also on the Governor's desk is a measure to create a $3 billion cancer research institute in Texas.
Transportation became a central issue this session, with growing displeasure from the public and lawmakers alike over the state's policy of ceding control of toll road projects to private entities to oversee and manage for decades. The transportation omnibus bill would halt construction of private toll roads for two years to give legislators more time to study the issue. It would also give local transportation entities more say in construction and management of toll projects, and would make the contracting process more transparent.
The state will have its own version of Jessica's Law, which increases penalties for sex offenders, including the death penalty for certain offenders. It would impose a 25 year minimum sentence for those who commit an aggravated sexual crime against a child, and would give prosecutors the option of capital punishment for two time offenders. The Senate and House also approved a measure that would require steroid testing for high school athletes, and would put defibrillators at all schools and school sporting events.
The Governor will have until mid-June to veto any bills sitting on his desk, but Legislators won't have a chance to rebut any measures vetoed until the Legislature resumes business in January of 2009.