Week in Review
Ensuring Justice Prevails
Legislation aimed at ensuring that death row inmates are afforded one full and fair opportunity to have their habeas corpus and unfairness claims heard by the courts won final approval of the full Senate Wednesday. Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, sponsor of Senate Bill (SB) 1224, said that his legislation will help to ease some of the fears that Texans have about our criminal justice system.
SB 1224 moves the appointment of counsel in habeas cases to the Task Force on Indigent Defense, comprised of five members selected by the governor and eight elected officials and judges. Habeas Corpus is the only appeal in which an inmate can raise new evidence of his or her innocence and it is intended to be a "safety net" designed to catch the innocent and those treated unfairly by the system. The bill also outlines the criteria that the Task Force should consider in developing standards for lawyers eligible for appointment.
Competency Bill Passed
The Senate approved legislation Tuesday that deals with the termination and restoration of competency to stand trial. SB 1057, sponsored by Lubbock Senator Robert Duncan, would rewrite the criminal competency statute to streamline the process and ensure consistency in its application across the state.
Duncan said that his bill gives the court two choices if a defendant is determined to be incompetent. If the charges are not dismissed, the person will be ordered by the district court to be confined or sent to a secure facility if they are a danger to themselves or others. If the prosecutors choose to dismiss the charges, the district court will refer the case to a probate court, which will use statutory procedures to commit the person in the event they are a danger to themselves or others.
Same-Sex Unions Banned
Legislation referred to as the Defense of Marriage Act passed by a 24-7 vote Tuesday. According to the bill's author, San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, SB 7 establishes a policy in Texas that marriage is between one man and one woman and that Texas will not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages that are entered into in other states.
One of the main arguments against the bill was that it is unnecessary. The two main objectors to the bill, Austin Senator Gonzalo Barrientos and Houston Senator John Whitmire, pointed out that same-sex marriages are already prohibited under current law and that a Beaumont court case recently confirmed that Texas does not recognize other states' civil unions.
Campaign Contribution Restrictions Approved
SB 244, passed Monday by the Senate, would place restrictions on when statewide officeholders, legislators, and their campaigns can accept contributions. Under the legislation authored by Dallas Senator Royce West, the period during which they could not accept campaign contributions spans the thirty days prior to a regular session through the twenty day period afterward in which the governor considers whether to sign or veto legislation from the session.
Offering Insurance Choices
Legislation that The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams says may lower the cost of health insurance for Texans by twelve to eighteen percent was approved by the full Senate Tuesday. SB 541 would allow insurers and health maintenance organizations to choose which state-mandated health benefits to offer in their policies. Williams said that his bill will offer more affordable options for families and small businesses. Most large companies can already choose what coverages to offer because their insurance policies are governed only by federal law and are not subject to state mandates, according to Williams.
Life-threatening Restraints Prohibited
Restraints that obstruct the airway, impair breathing by putting pressure on the torso, or interfere with the ability to communicate would not be allowed under legislation sanctioned by the Senate Wednesday. SB 59, authored by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, would prohibit these types of life-threatening restraints and seclusion on patients in treatment facilities. Zaffirini said that her bill will protect persons made vulnerable by disability, age, sickness, or disease that enter a facility to receive care and heal from being subjected to humiliating and dangerous treatment.
Assisting Sexual Assault Victims
The Senate approved of another measure by Zaffirini aimed at assisting in recovery for victims of sexual assault. SB 51 would require law enforcement agencies to provide victims with written information about local sexual assault services that are available if the local rape crisis centers provide the written materials.
Neglect of Young, Elderly, Disabled Made Criminal
Legislation aimed at protecting the young, elderly, and disabled from neglect was ratified by the Senate Wednesday as well. It would become a criminal offense to abandon or endanger a child, or an elderly or disabled individual under SB 827, proposed by Houston Senator John Whitmire.
Education Legislation Backed by Senate
The Senate approved of legislation Tuesday that would require school districts to implement policies detailing the appropriate use of a school counselor's time. SB 251, by Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, would adopt a policy on the appropriate use of counselors and defines the role of counselors in the test assessment process.
The Senate passed additional education legislation, authored by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, that would allow school districts to offer term contracts the first year a principal is employed with the district if the individual already has experience as a principal.
Additional Legislation Passed by the Senate This Week:
- Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 19, by The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams, would propose a constitutional amendment to add college professors and retired college professors to the list of state employees who may receive compensation for serving on local government boards.
- SB 100, by San Antonio Senator Leticia Van de Putte, would require day-care centers, group day-care homes, and family homes to have carbon monoxide detectors which meet requirements relating to their placement, installation, number, and maintenance set by the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.
- SB 249, sponsored by Houston Senator Kyle Janek, would allow priority boarding on the ferry to and from the Bolivar Peninsula for the owner of a motor vehicle who obtains a ferry sticker.
- SB 266, by Senator Lucio, would continue the Board of Law Examiners for the standard twelve-year period and revise its administrative provisions.
- SB 493, by El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh, would require the Health and Human Services Commission to regularly evaluate program contractors and subcontractors that provide or arrange for services for persons enrolled in Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the Texas Health Steps Program.
- SB 594, by Senator Van de Putte, would change the definition of "ambulatory surgical center" to allow patients to stay overnight in such facilities, while still restricting the general stay to 24 hours or less after the completion of a procedure.
- SB 606, by El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh, would create a pre-numbered statewide uniform manifest system, prescribed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to accompany liquid waste shipments.
- SB 641, by West, would create a presumption that documents of record, including maps and surveys, in the archives of the General Land Office accurately depict boundaries of patents, grants, and titles emanating from the state.
- SB 644, sponsored by San Antonio Senator Jeff Wentworth, would prohibit a governmental entity from disclosing personal information about people who hold a private pesticide applicator license.
- SB 833, by The Woodlands Senator Tommy Williams, would extend immunity from liability for grievances arising from actions related to a charitable organization's work to alumni associations and related on-campus organizations.
- SB 894, by Amarillo Senator Teel Bivins, would require school districts to supply information on dropout rates and the expenditure of compensatory education funds directly to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on an annual basis in an electronic format. The bill would also require TEA to create a ranking system to review the information provided on a district-by-district basis.
- SB 903, by Houston Senator Jon Lindsay, would enable federal military vehicles to use toll projects without payment of a toll or fare.
- SB 1005, by Dallas Senator Royce West, would add the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee to the list of entities to be notified of agency noncompliance with the Strategic Planning Section of the Government Code.
- SB 1017, by Wentworth, would add a section to the Government Code to clearly state that a county may sue or be sued.
- SB 1021, by San Antonio Senator Frank Madla, would provide for the conversion of rural fire prevention districts to emergency services districts if SJR 45 is approved by the voters on Nov.4.
- SB 1082, sponsored by College Station Senator Steve Ogden, would allow the Texas Department of Transportation to borrow funds from the permanent school fund to purchase land for the state highway system.
- SB 1083, also by Ogden, would authorize the Texas Transportation Commission to issue bonds and other public securities to generate funds for highway construction. The bill would earmark twenty percent of the revenues generated for safety improvements.
- SB 1280, would change the definition of an electric cooperative by removing language pertaining to successors to electric cooperative and allowing the Public Utility Commission to determine a schedule for certain utilities to transition to a competitive market.
- SB 1288, by Houston Senator Mario Gallegos, would require municipalities to provide military leave time accounts for fire fighters or police officers and to maintain their health, dental, and life insurance benefits should they by called to active military duty.
- SB 1430, sponsored by Waco Senator Kip Averitt, would authorize additional interest to be charged for default on certain secondary mortgage loans.
- SB 1577, sponsored by Dallas Senator Jon Carona, would provide additional requirements for becoming an eligible mortgage broker or loan officer. They include not having been convicted of, found guilty of, or pled guilty or nolo contendre to a criminal offense that the savings and loan commissioner determines directly relates to the occupation or a mortgage broker and convincing the commissioner that the applicant is honest and trustworthy.
Nominees Confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday, April 16, 2003Commissioner of Insurance:
Jose O. Montemayor, Travis CountyTexas Funeral Service Commission:
Presiding Officer, Harry M. Whittington, Travis CountyTexas Funeral Service Commission:
Member, Martha Greenlaw, Harris CountyCorrectional Managed Health Care Committee:
Member, Janice B. Howard, Fort Bend County
Member, James Dale Griffin, M.D., Dallas CountyTexas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Board:
Member, Jesus H. Bautista, El Paso CountyTexas Strategic Military Planning Commission:
Member, Gene Iran Brooks, Ph.D., Williamson County
Member, Donna Florence Vaden Clopton, Titus County
Member, Otilio "Toby" Galindo, Tom Green County
Member, Deborah Louder, Tom Green County
Member, Frankie D. Swift, Nacogdoches County
Member, Mary Sue Welch, Dallas County
Member, Jamie Lou Wheeler, Tarrant County
Member, Samuel Loyd Neal, Jr., Nueces CountyTexas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners:
Member, Sheng Ting "Sam" Chen, Travis CountyOn-site Wastewater Treatment Research Council:
Member, Hoang Xiong Ho, Bexar County
Member, Terry Glenn Rascoe, M.D., Bell County
Member, Therese M. Baer, P.E., Travis CountyTexas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation Board of Directors:
Member, Barry D. Bedwell, Randall County
Member, John R. Blount, Harris County
Member, Sandra A. Cararas, Hidalgo County
Member, Franz Kunkel Hiebert, Travis County
Member, Kosse Kyle Maykus, Tarrant County
Member, Charles Montel Rutledge, Brazos County
Member, James W. "Jim" Spence, Travis County
Member, Timothy N. Taylor, Nacogdoches County
Member, Cynthia D. Williams, Ector County
Member, Tommy James Brooks, Fort Bend CountyRisk Management Board:
Member, Ruben E. Esquivel, Dallas County
Member, Morgan William Howard, Brazos County
Member, Grace A. Shore, Gregg County
Member, Ronald D. Beals, M.D., Smith CountyPublic Counsel for the Office of Public Insurance Counsel:
Member, Martha A. Rider, Harris County
Roderick A. "Rod" Bordelon, Jr., Travis CountyTexas State Board of Examiners of Dietitians:
Member, Carol Barnett Davis, Dallas County
Member, Janet Suzanne Hall, Williamson County
Member, Claudia L. Lisle, Randall County