Week in Review
Insurance Rate Regulation Legislation
The first draft of Senate Bill (SB) 14, regulating insurance rates, was delivered to Senators on Monday and, by Thursday's hearing, the Business and Commerce Committee had forty-four proposed amendments to consider. After some debate, committee members voted on the amendments and rolled the approved ones into a committee substitute to the bill that will be brought forth before the full Senate next week. Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser, chair of the Business and Commerce Committee, told the press that he expects rates to decrease by twelve to fifteen percent immediately after the bill takes effect and, within six months to a year, he anticipates them to decrease back to the level they were at in 2001.
Texas Homeland Security
With the threat of terrorist attacks growing, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Addison Senator Florence Shapiro offered reassurances that the state will continue to provide for the safety and security of its citizens. Dewhurst reported that the state has offered additional resources to assist the federal government in protecting the border.
Shapiro spoke on her proposed homeland security omnibus bill that codifies a security system into statute specifying who is in control of what and what the strategic plan will be. Shapiro said that she filed SB 11 with strong support from the governor.
Shapiro also announced that eighty-eight percent of the forty-four recommendations made by the Homeland Security Task Force during the interim have been completed. She said that some of the rest are waiting on federal legislation or are currently in the legislative process.
Increased Security at the Capitol
Security was tightened around the Capitol following the advent of Wednesday night's U.S.-led military campaign against Saddam Hussein. Access to the east and west gates of the Capitol was restricted and metal detectors were installed at all entrances. According to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the additional security measures will remain in place until the conflict in Iraq is over.
A Day of Prayer in the State
A large crowd gathered in the Capitol Rotunda Thursday morning for a special service on behalf of our troops. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Governor Rick Perry were among those present to offer their support to those men and women risking their lives to defend freedom. The governor had declared March 20, 2003 a day of prayer in the State of Texas.
Representative Irma Rangel Dies
Following her death early Tuesday morning, several Senators who had the opportunity to work in the House with State Representative Irma Rangel spoke in her honor during Tuesday and Wednesday's sessions. Rangel became the first Mexican-American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1977 and was a strong advocate for higher education, the poor, minorities, and women. Although Rangel had successfully battled cancer twice before, but could not overcome the brain cancer that eventually beat her at the age of 71.
Upholding the Rights of the Poor
Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, along with religious and community leaders, held a Capitol press conference on Thursday to oppose recently filed legislation that would weaken the right to legal defense for people who cannot afford it. This week marked the fortieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Gideon v. Wainwright decision establishing the constitutional right to appointed defense counsel for poor people accused of a crime but unable to hire a lawyer.
Network to Find Missing Children Approved
During Tuesday's session, legislation by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini was passed by the Senate to officially implement the Amber Alert Network, which was created by an executive order of Governor Rick Perry in August. Amber, a system that broadcasts information about missing children almost immediately, is an acrostic for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response". SB 57 would require the Texas Department of Public Safety to appoint a director to be the statewide coordinator of the Amber Alert Network and grants the director rule-making authority to ensure proper implementation of the system.
Promoting Childhood Immunizations
A measure by Senator Zaffirini based on one of Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's e-Texas recommendations was passed by the Senate on Thursday. SB 486 would require the Texas Department of Health to work with public and private partnerships to increase awareness of early childhood immunizations and would limit the liability of private providers that participate in immunization programs.
Senate Passes Identity Fraud Legislation
The Senate approved legislation during Thursday's session aimed at combating identity fraud. Committee Substitute to Senate Bill (CSSB) 235, sponsored by Senator Fraser, prohibits printing more than the last four numbers of a credit or debit card account number and the expiration date on a receipt.
Protecting Consumers from Home Owners' Associations
The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations met for Wednesday's hearing before a full house to consider SB 949, which would provide a number of protections for consumers concerning home owners' associations, or HOA's. The legislation, authored by Houston Senator Jon Lindsay, severely restricts the circumstances under which an HOA could foreclose on an individual's home.
Bills Passed by the Senate This Week:
- SB 35, by Zaffirini, would allow the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Texas School for the Deaf to be reimbursed for performing assessments of students attending public and charter schools.
- SB 84, by San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, would amend the Government Code on public information to define the term "promptly" to mean "as soon as possible under the circumstances, within a reasonable time, without delay."
- CSSB 86, by Senator Kyle Janek of Houston, would require student dropout rates to be computed in accordance with standards adopted by the National Center for Education Statistics of the United States Department of Education.
- SB 89, also by Wentworth, proposed to add a new section to current legislation to clarify the guidelines for salary amounts, overtime, and compensatory time for state officials.
- SB 105, sponsored by Senator Kip Averitt of Waco, would abolish the County Court at Law of Navarro County.
- SB 146, sponsored by Wichita Falls Senator Craig Estes, would require a sex offender who changes his or her name to notify the supervising law enforcement agency.
- SB 162, sponsored by Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, would allow the Texas Department of Health to place health facilities in noncompliance with Texas laws on probation and emergency suspension in certain cases.
- SB 197, sponsored by Palestine Senator Todd Staples, would prohibit a voter from challenging another voter's registration beyond seventy-five days before an election, allowing that voter sufficient time to receive and respond to the challenge.
- SB 202, by Senator Wentworth, would authorize a reorganization of a mutual life insurance company to a mutual holding company as another alternative of reorganization and allow existing policyholders to own the stock in the holding company.
- SB 211, sponsored by Dallas Senator John Carona, would limit public access to certain records during the course of an investigation of a licensed chiropractor. The bill passed the Senate with a vote of twenty-four ayes and seven nays.
- SB 240, sponsored by Averitt, amends the Health and Safety Code to make it easier to offer premium assistance under the Children's Health Insurance Program.
- CSSB 358, by Senator Shapiro, would give a county judge of a county with a population of two million or more the option to appoint magistrates to hear truancy cases.
- SB 373, by The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams, would require insurers to notify policy holders of a premium rate increase sixty days before it takes effect. Current law only requires thirty days notification prior to the effective date of the rate increase.
- SB 504, sponsored by College Station Senator Steve Ogden, would authorize an emergency medical services provider to secure a lien for care and services rendered in counties with a population of 570,000 or less.
- CSSB 510, by Senator Staples, which would exempt certain travel trailers from ad valorem taxation.
- CSSB 535, by Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, attempts to prevent the proliferation of colonias-- unincorporated subdivisions that lack basic services--by providing the necessary regulatory authority to border counties.
- Another bill by Zaffirini, CSSB 589, would clarify the roles of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Texas School for the Deaf.
Nominations Approved by the Senate on March 19, 2003
Michael M. Seale, Harris County
Charles J. Sebesta, Burleson County
Cathy J. Ellison, Travis County
Daniel J. Smith, Bell County
Joe A. Stivers, Walker County
Gary M. Swindle, Henderson County
Keith H. Kuttler, Brazos County
Barbara J. Punch, Harris County
Thomas Weir Labatt, Bexar County
E.G. Rod Pittman, Angelina County
Tina L. Brown, Nueces County
Robert Frost, Tarrant County
Johanne M. Ibsen-Wolford, Travis County
Rene D. Pena, El Paso County
Gordon D. Ware, Nueces County
John Mitchell Moore, Erath County
Carolyn M. Liner, Hays County
Ricardo Menchaca, Midland County
Steven Michael Berkowitz, Travis County
Billy G. Davis, Harris County
Gene G. Freeland, Dallas County
Jean L. Freeman, Galveston County
Peter Okose, Galveston County
Imogen Sherman Papadopoulos, Harris County
David Gregorio Cabrales, Dallas County
Joseph A. Messmer, Nueces County
Clarissa A. Meyers, Hidalgo County
Robert Clayton Strayhan, Bexar County