Week in Review
The first bill of the 78th Legislative session was passed unanimously on Tuesday, about two weeks after Governor Rick Perry declared insurance to be an emergency matter. Senate Bill (SB) 310, sponsored by Senator Troy Fraser from Marble Falls, requires all insurers of residential property doing business in Texas to immediately file their current rates and estimated rates for the next six months, as well as any supporting data, with the commissioner of insurance on a one-time basis. The commissioner has thirty days from the passage of the bill to report to the legislature whether the rates are just, adequate, reasonable, and not excessive or unfairly discriminatory.
The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce heard further testimony on SB 14, which regulates the rates of automobile and homeowners insurance under a file and use system in which an insurer is required to file rates and supporting data with the commissioner of insurance. The commissioner has sixty days to disapprove the rate, otherwise it becomes effective.
The Senate Committee on Education passed SB 86, sponsored by San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, after hearing public testimony on Tuesday. The bill would grant automatic admission to state universities to any student in the top ten percent of their graduating class, as long as they take a prescribed curriculum. Senator Wentworth also presented SB 83, which calls for the observance of one minute of silence during each school day in public schools.
The Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations held a joint hearing with the House Committee on Defense Affairs and State-Federal Relations and the Texas Strategic Military Planning Commission on Wednesday. The panel discussed the current state of Texas' eighteen military bases and heard invited testimony concerning the upcoming Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) review in 2005, which is to trim excess domestic base infrastructure.
That afternoon, Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso held a press conference to announce the filing of legislation termed the "Military Preparedness Act of 2003" as an effort to prevent possible military base closures in Texas during the BRAC review.
A ceremony recognizing and saluting the Texas Military was held on Wednesday in the Senate Chamber. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Governor Rick Perry, both United States Air Force Veterans, as well as Senator Leticia Van de Putte from San Antonio, McAllen Senator Juan Hinojosa and others, expressed their gratitude to the active members and veterans of the Texas Military.
Hearings concerning the budget continued when the Senate Committee on Government Organization and the House Committee on Government Reform met jointly to hear testimony from State Auditor Lawrence Alwin. Alwin briefed the legislators on the two recent reports released by his office and outlined a series of proposals designed to help agencies better utilize their employees and make the most of their tightening budgets.
Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. from Brownsville targeted what he called the growing epidemic of obesity by filing SB 474, the Texas Schoolchildren's Nutrition and Health Act. Lucio introduced the legislation limiting access to so-called junk foods, such as vending machine snacks and foods high in fat or sugar, in a press conference on Thursday. The bill also calls for the creation of a twelve-member Schoolchildren's Nutrition and Health Advisory Council to develop a plan designed to improve the nutritional health of schoolchildren.
The State of the State
On Tuesday, Governor Rick Perry gave his forty-five minute State of the State address before a joint session in the House Chamber. He outlined his suggestions to balance the budget without raising taxes and presented his top three priorities for the legislature--education, the economic security and safety of citizens, and the fiscal responsibility of government.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 17, 2003, at 1:30 p.m.