P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 1999
AUSTIN -- State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, authored or sponsored 107 bills. Of those, 63 were passed into law either as stand-alone bills or as amendments to other legislation. She also co-authored several pieces of important legislation such as the school finance bill, electric restructuring legislation and franchise tax relief. Following is a list of some of her priority bills that are soon to become law:
Domestic violence: Eight bills sponsored by Senator Nelson will strengthen penalties for repeat domestic offenders, provide more adequate protection for victims and help fund shelters. "Domestic violence has reached epidemic proportions in Texas, largely because we have a system that caters to the abuser and places a cruel burden on victims. It's time to put the fear in the abusers for a change and allow victims the protection they need to rebuild their lives."
- SB 23 - Extends the duration of a magistrate's emergency protective order from 31 to 61 days, allowing allows victims more time to petition for a permanent protective order.
- SB 24 - Increases the penalty for a second assault on a family member from a Class A misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, which carries jail time. Currently, repeat offenses do not automatically trigger a jail sentence.
- SB 50 - Extends the duration of a protective order from one to two years to allow victims more time to rebuild their lives. It also changes a cruel law that prevents the extension of a protective order unless there is a new act of violence.
- SB 461 - Allows a judge to order, as a condition of probation, the domestic violence defendant to pay up to $100 to a shelter.
- SB 588 - Allows a judge to suspend a defendant's concealed handgun license in cases of family violence. This measure was amended to House Bill 2124.
- HB 577 - Allows a magistrate to hold a domestic violence suspect up to 48 hours after the offender has posted bond. Retaliation against the victim is most likely in the first 48 hours after the attacker is released.
- HB 865 - Allows victims of domestic violence to change their driver's license number in order to protect their identity from their attacker.
- HB 2187 - Requires that court-ordered anger management courses for offenders meet state guidelines.
Fast-growth schools: Senator Nelson filed three bills - SB 594, SB 595, SB 596 - that were folded into Senate Bill 4 and survived intense negotiations. The provisions will provide $25 million a year in start-up allotments for newly built campuses, give fast growing district a leg up on the priority rankings for funds under the Chapter 46 Instructional Facilities Assistance Program and provide $930 million to help pay off old debt. Although the House took out the priority ranking element and reduced the start-up allotments, Senator Nelson fought to have those provisions put back into the bill while serving on the panel to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the school finance plan. "Facilities are the No. 1 funding problem facing fast growing school districts that are struggling to keep up with growth. The state is finally stepping up to the plate and helping local taxpayers shoulder the load," she said.
Privacy: Several bills authored by Senator Nelson will expand privacy rights for Texans. "In this day an age, an individual's social security number can be used to obtain all sorts of sensitive and private information. This type of data could be used to commit fraud or otherwise harm an individual," Senator Nelson said. "The state has no business allowing the social security numbers of our licensed professionals to remain accessible to the general public for no compelling reason. There are enough affronts to our privacy today as it is." They include:
- House Bill 692 - This bill by Senator Nelson will protect the confidentiality of social security numbers for working Texans. It overturns an opinion from the Texas Attorney General that a physician's social security number is not confidential data. Currently, a doctor's social security number is available to anyone who requests it through the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners. HB 692 amends the Texas Occupational Code to make this information confidential not just for doctors, but for all professionals who are licensed in Texas.
- SB 569 - Prohibits insurance companies from viewing a mental health patient's progress notes or observing psychotherapy sessions.
- SB 782 - This bill specifically prohibits selling, sharing, or using a list of patients who have certain diagnoses or use certain types of drugs in order to solicit an individual patient to use another type or brand of drug. This bill failed, but some provisions contained in SB 782 were amended into another bill.
- SB 1235 - Currently, insurance companies use a medical practitioner's federal DEA number as an identifier. This bill prohibits this and other inappropriate uses of the DEA number.
- HB 692 - Insures the confidentiality of a professional's social security number.
- HB 2827 - Requires a person to provide consent before certain medical information may be disclosed.
Slamming, cramming: Senate Bill 86 will close a loophole that has prevented the Texas Public Utilities Commission from punishing telecommunications companies who engage in deceptive marketing such as slamming, the unauthorized switching of a customer's long distance carrier. It also makes cramming, the practice of charging customers for services they have not approved, illegal for the first time in Texas. The bill also spells out a utility consumer bill of rights and makes these same unscrupulous practices illegal in the electric industry, which will be opened up to competition through Senate Bill 7, which Senator Nelson co-authored, writing the consumer protection provisions of that legislation. "Through this legislation we are sending a message to telecommunication companies that the state of Texas will not allow our consumers to be slammed, crammed or otherwise scammed. We are also putting electric utilities on notice that if they try deceive Texas customers, we are going to pull the plug on you."
Silent PPOs: SB 130 by Nelson prohibits the misrepresentation of discounts by insurers to hospitals and physicians. A practice referred to as "silent PPOs" takes place when an insurer states that they are entitled to a discount they knowingly are not entitled to and has no ties with the original contract of a legitimate PPO. This practice hurts hospitals, physicians, and most importantly the consumer of these health care service. This bill would hold these individuals accountable, finding them in violation of the law by committing an unfair act or deceptive practice.
Universal Pharmacy Card: SB 1237 requires that insurers and persons administering pharmacy benefits use a standardized pharmacy benefit card. Pharmacists have difficulty deciphering the many different types of pharmacy benefit cards issued by insurers. In addition, several pharmacy benefit cards do not include information necessary for the pharmacists to properly process a claim. In some cases, pharmacy cards do not even include a telephone number where a consumer may obtain additional information about their specific coverage. SB 1237 also includes patient confidentiality standards, such as a prohibition against the selling of patient lists.
Prescription errors: Senate Bill 1889, which Senator Nelson filed in response to a string of lawsuits against pharmacies that had given the wrong prescriptions to patients, was taken as an amendment to Senate Bill 730, which is on the way to the governor. The successful portions of the original bill will require that pharmacy technicians, who are currently unregulated even though they perform sensitive tasks such as labeling and filling prescriptions, be registered and certified by 2001 with registration fees dedicated to increasing pharmacy inspections. The bill also requires that pharmacy techs perform only nonjudgmental tasks and that lawsuits over pharmacy errors be reported to the state. Currently, only about 3,900 of the estimated 60,000 pharmacy technicians working in Texas have passed the national certification exam. This problem has been cited in several lawsuits over pharmacy errors that have resulted in hospitalization, serious injury and even death of the patient. "Texans should be able to walk into a pharmacy and leave knowing that they are getting the prescription that their doctor ordered. And we should not have untrained, unsupervised teen-agers doling out medicine," Senator Nelson said.
Good Samaritans: Senate Bill 122 will shield from liability those who use automatic defibrillators, a lifesaving medical device that restarts the heart in the event of cardiac arrest, at the scene of an emergency. The bill will protect flight attendants and others who have been trained to use this device, from lawsuits in an attempt to encourage more companies to make these devices available. A man whose life was saved on an American Airlines flight with a defibrillator testified in support of the bill, along with the flight attendant who saved the man's life. "Good Samaritans who attempt to save someone's life should be applauded, not penalized with a lawsuit," Senator Nelson said.
Flea markets: A week after Senator Nelson pulled down House Bill 749 - the flea market bill - after Senator West tried to amend it to require background checks at gun shows, Senator Nelson brought the bill back to the floor and was successful in securing its passage - without the West amendment. The bill makes it a Class C misdemeanor if a flea market vendor is caught selling contact lenses, instant food or formula and over-the-counter medicine without permission from the manufacturer. "Some of the stories I've heard about this issue are truly deplorable. It's disgusting to think that a succession of customers can try on the same pair of contact lenses, and it's even more troubling to think that products as important as baby formula are being hawked without any consideration to storage temperature or expiration dates," Senator Nelson said. "And I am thankful that no one tried to expand it to include such a controversial amendment that would have jeopardized its passage."
Indigent health care: House Bill 2573, sponsored by Senator Nelson, will help reimburse trauma centers for treating certain uninsured patients. The measure will help hospitals such as Parkland Memorial Hospital, John Peter Smith Hospital and other major centers in the Metroplex to be reimbursed for treating uninsured patients from neighboring counties such as Denton County. In the appropriations bill, about $2 million in seed money has been set aside for this purpose. It also allows the Texas Department of Health to seek private donations, gifts and grants to continue the program, rather than create an open-ended state funding commitment. "All Texans should have access to quality emergency care, but the state should not expect county hospital districts to absorb the cost of treating the uninsured from neighboring counties," she said. "I believe that starting this public-private fund is the most fiscally responsible solution to the problem."
Truth in hiring: Employers who give truthful job references will be shielded from liability under a bill sponsored by Senator Nelson soon to become law. According to a 1995 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, about 63 percent of human resource managers say they do not give out descriptions of job performance or any other characterizations about former employees for fear of lawsuits. That means information about harassment, substance abuse or other on-the-job problems that could harm a job candidate's future co-workers and future employers is rarely being divulged. "For safety reasons alone, we should not allow the threat of lawsuit to remain a gag order on employers who have relevant information about someone another business is considering for employment," Senator Nelson said. "Prospective employers have the right to know just what kind of worker they are about to hire, especially if that prospect has a history of behavioral problems."
Airline trespassing: A bill authored by Senator Nelson that creates a criminal offense for trespassing on an airplane has passed the Texas House and is on the way to Governor Bush's desk. Currently there is no law that prevents someone from sitting down on an airplane and refusing to get up, even after being asked to leave the plane. But under SB 1558, this constitutes trespassing. Airplanes are considered neither public property nor private property by law. So when airport public safety officials encounter a sit-down protest, their only recourse is to cancel the flight and re-board or wait for the protester to commit a crime such as disorderly conduct. "I know we can't legislate courtesy. But in my mind, when someone has been asked by an officer of the law to leave the plane yet refuses to budge, they are trespassing, not to mention inconveniencing dozens of travelers," Senator Nelson said.
Medicare fraud: The Legislature has approved SB 1248 authored by Senator Nelson to save the state more than $2.5 million a year in Medicaid dollars. The bill will protect the Medicaid program from having to pay out claims that should be covered under the claimant's health insurance plan. By law, Medicaid is only supposed to cover costs as a payor of last resort. Since new laws have been enacted to regulate managed care organizations, a trend has emerged in which manage care companies contract with third party vendors to carry out certain services unregulated. Some of these third-party administrators are claiming exemptions from only the "payor of last resort" for persons who have other health insurance. "Payor of last resort should mean payor of last resort. The state should not have to pick up the tab for treatment that should be paid by the insurer," she said.
Cardiovascular Council: Senator Nelson carried legislation that will create the Texas Council on Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke, which will coordinate some 100 private and nonprofit agencies trying to prevent heart disease. Heart disease and stroke are the state's No. 1 and No. 3 killers, respectively, and combined cost taxpayers more than $9 billion a year to treat. The council aims to significantly reduce risk factors that lead to these health problems. "I've always believed that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Nelson said.
Denton District Court: A bill authored by Senator Nelson was folded into Senator Ellis' omnibus district court bill, paving the way for a new district court in Denton County. The new court is needed because of massive growth in Denton County that has created heavy case loads for Denton County courts. SB949 would create a new family law court, which Senator Nelson said is needed to avoid delays for families in crisis. "Family matters deserve to be heard on a fast-track basis because of the impact it might have in the lives of children," Senator Nelson said. "And because the current court is overwhelmed due to growth, it is crucial that we create this mechanism to deal with these issues in a timely manner."
Super Collider bill: House Bill 1539, sponsored by Senator Nelson to help redevelopment efforts on land previously occupied by the Superconducting Super Collider, validates ownership rights for more than $10 million in land that was sold to third parties after the federal government canceled the Super Collider in the early 1990s. During the 75th Legislature, legislation was passed that created a preference right for those who had owned land on the Super Collider site before it was purchased by the federal government. Much of that land has changed hands, but potential investors fear that previous land owners who have not attempted to re-purchase property may do so in the future, causing legal problems. "The question of land rights has unfortunately stalled redevelopment of this site. This bill will settle any concerns prospective investors have about who actually has the right to certain tracts of land," Senator Nelson said.
Courts of Record: Bills filed by Senator Nelson, R-Flower Mound will pave the way for municipal courts of record in Farmer's Branch, Flower Mound, Coppell and Denton. Currently, neither city has a municipal court of record, which means any defendant who appears in those municipal courts has an automatic right to appeal their case to a county court. Because of backlogs in the county court, these cases are often dismissed or plea bargained down to lesser offenses. "The municipal courts in these cities deserve to have their rulings mean something," Nelson said. " I believe this legislation will be of great benefit to both cities."
Senator Nelson represents Senate District 12, which includes parts of Dallas, Denton, Ellis and Tarrant counties. She chairs the Senate Health Services Committee and served on the Education Committee, Criminal Justice Committee, Special Committee on Electric Restructuring and the Subcommittee on Higher Education.
She also served on 35 of 102 conference committees, which are panels assigned to work out differences between House and Senate versions of legislation passed by both chambers. Among those were panels assigned to finalize the children's health insurance program, school finance and telecommunications deregulation.
(Note: Our offices will be closed the remainder of this week. You may reach Dave Nelson by calling the district office at 972/724-0066. The district office will page me.)