P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 25, 2001
AUSTIN - After avoiding the redistricting meltdown that many predicted would cripple the legislative process, the Texas Legislature is set to adjourn Monday with a list of accomplishments that includes landmark medical privacy protections, new highway funding sources, stronger DWI laws and education reforms authored by Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.
"Having heard about the divisiveness of previous redistricting sessions, my main goal was to protect the people in my district from harmful legislation and to ensure that our community was not steam rolled by powerful lobby forces," Senator Nelson said. "The fact that I was able to stave off some bad legislation and also pass Texas' first comprehensive medical privacy law in the information age is a success in my book. I was also pleased that we were able to provide least some additional assistance to fast growth school districts; retool our approach to transportation issues and address several important health issues without raising the tax burden."
Following is an overview of some of Senator Nelson's priority issues:
Medical Privacy: The Texas Medical Privacy Act (SB 11) authored by Senator Nelson to prevent the unauthorized release of a patient's medical records passed the Legislature and was sent to Governor Perry. "It is not unreasonable to ask that our most sensitive medical information be handled with care and that lists of patients not be blasted out into cyberspace as a potential client base."
Adolescent obesity: SB 19 by Senator Nelson passed the Legislature, returning daily physical exercise to the school day for Texas elementary schools to fight juvenile diabetes and other health problems stemming from improper diet and sedentary lifestyles. "Our children are experiencing serious health problems that are usually only diagnosed in 45-year-old men, and obesity is the primary reason. Far too many of our children are sitting at their desks all day at school and in front of TVs or computers all night, failing to get the exercise they need to be healthy," Senator Nelson said.
DWI/Open Container: Senator Nelson ushered through the Senate legislation (HB 5) strengthening penalties for repeat DWI offenders, banning all open containers of alcohol in vehicles and preventing the diversion of $43 million in federal highway dollars this year and another $86 million next year. "This legislation will prevent the diversion of millions in federal highway construction dollars, but more importantly it is the right thing to do. Texas has the worst alcohol-related traffic safety record in the nation, and we need to take a harder line on drunken driving to save lives," Senator Nelson said.
Grapevine/DFW: Senator Nelson was instrumental in blocking efforts by the owner cities of the DFW Airport, Dallas and Fort Worth, to force the airport's host cities, Grapevine and Coppell, into disadvantageous revenue sharing agreements. In the end, the two sides reached an agreement that was passed by the Legislature. "My preference would have been for this matter to be resolved locally, but I am thankful that we were able to reach an accord after several weeks of tough negotiations," Senator Nelson said.
Breast Cancer Treatment: Medicaid-eligible women can receive screenings and early treatment for breast and cervical cancer under SB 532 by Senator Nelson. The $1.2 million initiative, which has been sent to Governor Perry, will draw down $3 million in federal funding. "Through early detection and treatment we know we can significantly reduce mortality rates from breast and cervical cancer. We also know that by investing in early treatment we can save health care dollars in the long-term by delaying or avoiding altogether the need for acute care in the latter stages of the disease. This is good for our fiscal health, as well as the health of women fighting these diseases," Senator Nelson said.
Denton County Transit Authority: Senator Nelson ushered through the Senate HB 3323, which is awaiting the governor's signature. It allows voters in Denton County and other suburban counties the ability to create their own transit authorities. "The edge cities of our Metroplex have different priorities for mass transit than the urban areas. If our community is allowed to set our own mass transit agenda, put our own resources and enthusiasm into projects, the entire region will benefit," Senator Nelson said.
The Gary Terry Bill: SB 531 by Senator Nelson was renamed the "Gary Terry Bill" before being sent to the governor. It initiates the development of a statewide plan to install automatic external defibrillators (AED) in state buildings to help save the lives of cardiac arrest victims. Mr. Terry, who lives in Northeast Tarrant County and serves as Board Chairman of the American Heart Association Texas Affiliate, visited Austin in March on a trip to promote this bill. While waiting for his flight home, he suffered a heart attack but was revived by an AED at Austin Bergstrom Airport. "Gary Terry is living testament to the fact that the time and energy we devote to the issues we hold dear can truly make a difference in someone's life. In Gary's case, that life just happened to be his own," Senator Nelson said.
Domestic Violence: Senator Nelson passed SB 15, which amends the Public Information Act to keep confidential the location, client information and other sensitive data kept by victim's shelters and sexual assault programs that receive state funding. She also passed SB 18, creating a criminal offense for interfering with emergency communication devices, the intent being to punish those who cut phone lines or damage phones to prevent 9-1-1 calls. "The people working on the front lines to fight domestic abuse need every tool they can get to protect victims and their children and to ensure that domestic predators are punished for their abuse," Senator Nelson said.
Fast-growth school districts: The Legislature incorporated Nelson's SB 1460 into the education budget, permanently raising the tax rate cap on debt service from 12 cents per $100 valuation to 29 cents per $100 valuation. The provision will help fast-growth districts pay off bonds needed to build new schools. "I will continue to push for the state to become a better partner to our local school districts that are forced to ask local taxpayers to shoulder the load for all these new campuses that are needed to deal with enrollment growth," Senator Nelson said.
Arson/Criminal Mischief: At the urging of North Texas firefighters, the Legislature approved a bill sponsored by Senator Nelson that strengthens penalties for arson and vandalism at schools. HB 171 makes arson of a home and a place of assembly a first-degree felony. "Firefighters in my district said they needed a bigger stick to crack down on arsonists and vandalists, and I am pleased that we were able to provide that," Senator Nelson said.
Sudden Passion/Bail Reduction: SB 16 would have raised the burden on convicted murderers for putting on a "sudden passion" defense in the punishment phase of a capital murder trial in an attempt to receive a lighter sentence. This legal maneuver allowed Jimmy Watkins of Fort Worth to receive a 10-year probation for murdering his ex wife, Nancy Watkins, and was used unsuccessfully in the trial of Timothy Richardson, who strangled to death his ex-wife, Mary Richardson, in her University Park home. In both cases the defendant blamed the victim's behavior for the homicides. SB 17 would have required judges to notify prosecutors when considering a bail reduction for violent offenders. Both measures stalled. "The sudden passion excuse needs to be removed from the code, or at least revised to prevent convicted murders from blaming their victims for their own death. I was extremely disappointed by the cool reception the loved ones of these women received when they testified before the Senate, and I wish we were able to give them some satisfaction by righting this wrong," Senator Nelson said.
Human Cloning: SB 102 passed the Senate but stalled in the House. It would have created the nation's toughest law against the cloning of a human being, making it a first-degree felony and also subjecting it to civil penalties of up to $10 million. "The deformities and irregularities that occur most often with animal clones are so severe that it would be unthinkable to subject these probabilities to human children, cloned or not," Senator Nelson said. "I sincerely hope the federal government addresses this issue in the near future because there are groups already attempting to clone humans, and this should not be allowed to occur."
"We made significant progress this session on education, transportation and health care without raising the tax burden, and I am generally pleased at the accomplishments of this Legislature. However, there are several areas in which we fell short, starting with school finance. I think we need to get to work immediately to find an equitable way for us to finance education in Texas because I still believe the Robin Hood plan is unjust. My preference will be to come up with a plan in which the state allocates a certain amount of funding toward the education of every child in Texas and lets school districts supplement that money with local tax dollars with no restrictions," Senator Nelson said.