FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2021
(AUSTIN) — The 87th Texas Legislature concluded today (Monday), and the Senate's highest-ranking woman and Hispanic member, Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was the Senate's highest bill-passer for the fourth consecutive session.
Despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant budget deficit, and Winter Storm Uri, Senator Zaffirini passed 106 bills and extended her career-long voting record past 65,000 consecutive votes—well beyond that of any other legislator in the country.
Her bills address the priorities of Senate District 21, which stretches from the Rio Grande to the Colorado River and from the Port of Corpus Christi to the Valley. "Although my district enjoys rich cultural diversity, we all share several universal needs," she said. "Our quality of life depends on economic vibrancy, access to health care, and excellent and affordable educational opportunities for all—including early childhood and higher education."
After the pandemic illuminated and exacerbated inequities in our health care system, Senator Zaffirini introduced legislation proposing important health and human services reforms. Among those passed by the Legislature were measures to help persons with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid find competitive, integrated employment (Senate Bill 50); require health insurers to cover ovarian cancer screenings (House Bill 428); authorize telehealth offerings for health occupations regulated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration (SB 40); establish a bone marrow donor recruitment program (SB 780); excuse absences for students diagnosed with or undergoing treatment for severe illness (HB 699); and prohibit organ transplant recipient discrimination on the basis of disability (HB 119).
After persons were denied information regarding the state of the pandemic at their loved ones' nursing homes, Zaffirini filed and passed SB 930, which makes this information available to the public. "Never again will Texans be left in the dark about the health and safety of their families," said the senator. She also passed HB 1423, which requires long-term care facilities to submit to regular inspections and maintain an emergency power source.
Senator Zaffirini advanced legislation improving higher education in Texas. Her SB 36, for example, incentivizes reporting of hazing and establishes a task force to study campus mental health statewide; SB 959 includes workforce education courses in criteria for student success-based funding for community colleges; HB 33 allows military experience to be considered for college course credit; and SB 884 transfers management of the Regional Campus at Laredo to The University of Texas System to operate as a multi-institution health education center.
"Making higher education more accessible and affordable not only benefits students, but also ensures our economic future remains bright," she said.
Last year's dramatic rise in unemployment inspired two bills to help persons more easily access their benefits: SBs 1801 and 2099, which modernize forms of payment accepted by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and improve communication between unemployment compensation claimants and TWC, respectively.
The senator's longstanding passion for advancing access to justice is reflected in additional bills passed this session. HB 4344 ensures the State Commission on Judicial Conduct processes complaints against judges timely; HB 79 provides for appointment of associate judges for guardianship proceedings and protective services proceedings; SB 41 consolidates civil court filing fees; SB 692 grants access to certain financial records by the Guardianship Abuse, Fraud, and Exploitation Deterrence Program; HB 295 funds indigent defense services; and SB 49 ensures that officials responsible for incarcerated persons can access their mental health records.
As the eighth of 23 women elected to the Texas Senate since 1927, Senator Zaffirini has a distinct interest in advocating for protections for women, especially survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Her SB 45, for example, protects employees of companies with fewer than 15 employees from workplace sexual harassment. (Current law extends legal protections only to persons who work at companies with more than 15 employees.) HB 21 changes the deadline for filing a sexual harassment complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission from 180 to 300 days; HB 39 clarifies that agreed-to protective orders (POs) are enforceable, regardless of whether courts find that family violence occurred or is likely to occur in the future, allows adults to apply for POs related to human trafficking on behalf of children or persons under guardianship, and makes updates regarding expiry dates; SB 1458, which adds "indecent assault" to the list of offenses for which a court may issue a protective order; and HB 1172 establishes trauma-informed investigation procedures for sexual assault cases.
Zaffirini's additional priority bills passed by the 87th Legislature include the following:
- HB 103, which establishes the Texas Active Shooter Alert System;
- SB 43, which protects lenders against predatory wrap mortgage lending practices;
- HB 375, which makes the sexual abuse of a disabled person a first degree felony;
- SB 1772, which incentivizes solar power facilities to conserve habitats for bees and other pollinators;
- SB 44, which allows state employees to volunteer with additional relief organizations after a disaster, rather than only with the American Red Cross; and
- HB 1301, which will create a study to improve living conditions in colonias.
"This session presented unique challenges and unique opportunities to make a difference for the families of Senate District 21," Senator Zaffirini said. "I look forward to continuing to work with constituents and stakeholders during the interim to develop meaningful solutions for the problems facing our district."
SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, D-Laredo, represents Senate District 21 in the Texas Senate. The second highest-ranking senator and the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic senator, Senator Zaffirini also was the highest bill-passer for the fourth consecutive session.