WEEK IN REVIEW
AUSTIN - Legislation offering health insurance for younger Texans through the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, passed unanimously out of the Senate Thursday, March 11. The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 445, as amended on the Senate floor, covers children of Texans who make too much money to qualify for medicaid but cannot afford health insurance. It focuses on a health plan for certain low income children. In Texas, 1.4 million children, or one in four, do not have health insurance.
Bill sponsor Senator Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth said, "It's seldom you're able to do something in this legislative process that's going to affect so many lives. And it's a tremendous responsibility to make sure that you do it right." The federal government will also help the state pay for the program, providing three federal dollars for each state dollar.
Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus celebrated the passage of children's health insurance legislation in a press conference Thursday, but said it is not enough. They say the Legislature should focus their attention--and money--on issues like higher education, child care and teacher pay not tax cuts. They expect tax cut legislation to appear sometime next week.
Lt. Governor Rick Perry declared that Texas should be tougher on drunk drivers at a press conference on Wednesday, March 10. Members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee agreed, passing legislation later in the day strengthening the laws against driving drunk. The committee passed Senate Bill (SB) 114, by Galena Park Senator Mario Gallegos Jr., lowering the blood alcohol content from .10 to .08 percent. Other bills voted out of committee increase civil and criminal consequences for driving drunk. Perry says the threat of losing federal highway funding and the safety of Texans are two reasons to support the changes.
Victims of domestic violence would have greater protections under legislation passed in the Senate Tuesday, March 9. Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson sponsored the bills which are part of her plan to increase protection for victims and penalties for abusers. SB 23 extends an emergency protection order, giving victims more time to get a permanent order. SB 50 extends a protective order to five years and makes it easier for victims to receive an extension. CSSB 461, allows a judge to require a person convicted of family violence to help fund women's shelters as a condition of probation.
Other legislation passed this week includes: CSSB 306, by Lucio, makes it more difficult for people convicted of a felony to get out on bail while waiting to appeal their case; SB 262, as amended, by Brown, requires that a municipality reimburse landowners or developers prior to the effective date of annexation for existing public improvements. In cases of dispute, the money would be kept in escrow until the amount is verified; SB 152, by West, makes the escape of a high-risk inmate from a juvenile correctional facility a third degree felony. Currently, it is only a misdemeanor; and CSSB 107, by Truan, designating March 31 an optional state holiday in honor of farm worker leader Cesar Chavez.
In committee action this week, legislation requiring parental consent and notification when minors want an abortion passed out of the Human Services Committee. Nelson sponsored CSSB 27 requiring parental consent. Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano sponsored CSSB 30 requiring parental notification. Legislation opening the electric utility market to competition, CSSB 7, passed out of the Senate Special Committee on Electric Utility Restructuring Monday, March 8. Legislators are trying to work out a proposal designed to benefit consumers with more options and lower prices, while protecting electric companies from losing their investments. A bill placing a cap on public assistance to people, who continue to have children while on welfare, SB 64 by Nelson, passed out of the Health Services Committee by a narrow vote. Legislation banning the use and possession of eight-liner machines in Texas, SB 970, by Waco Senator David Sibley, was left pending in the Economic Development Committee.
Teachers could be getting a bonus under legislation Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins filed Thursday, March 11 creating a Master Reader Teacher program. SB 3 which has strong support from Perry, rewards specially trained reading teachers with a state-funded bonus of up to $7000 a year. March 12 is the last day for legislators to file bills with statewide impact without permission from their fellow members.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 15 at 1:30 p.m.