Sunday , May 28 2017
Home | Tag Archives: texas legislature

Tag Archives: texas legislature

Texas Lawmakers Pass Bill Making Attacks on Police, Judges a Hate Crime

Legislation that would make attacking police officers and judges a hate crime cleared the Texas Senate on Tuesday. Now the measure heads to Gov. Greg Abbott‘s desk.

Under House Bill 2908, making a terroristic threat that puts a police officer or judge in fear of imminent bodily injury would be a state jail felony, which carries a sentence of up to two years in jail.

Unlawfully restraining or assaulting a police officer or judge would be a second-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Any crime against either group that results in serious bodily injury would be a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison.

The legislation is an answer to two recent attacks: the 2016 ambush that left six Dallas police officers dead and many more injured, and the 2015 attack on state District Judge Julie Kocurek outside her Austin home. Kocurek survived the attack. (A separate bill focusing on court security cleared both chambers this week.)

Since those tragedies, state lawmakers have prioritized bills supporting police and judges. Abbott, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and other officials have called for enhanced penalties for attacking law enforcement.

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the state will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said when pushing for such legislation.

In Texas, hate crimes are offenses committed with a bias or prejudice against someone’s “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender or sexual preference,” according to state law.

If it gets Abbott’s sign-off, as expected, the bill will take effect Sept. 1.

Read more:

  • Greg Abbott says targeted killing of police officers should be a hate crime in Texas.
  • Days after five police officers were killed by a lone gunman in downtown Dallas, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation that would make killing a police officer a federal crime.

Author:  JOHNATHAN SILVER – The Texas Tribune

Dan Patrick Unconvinced by House Action on Bathrooms, Property Taxes

After threatening to force a special session of the Texas Legislature unless lawmakers approve a “bathroom bill” and property tax legislation, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick on Monday appeared to be unconvinced by the House’s actions on the two issues.

“I share Governor Abbott’s concern about the lack of a rollback provision in Senate Bill 669 on property taxes,” Patrick said in a statement about a property tax measure the House passed Saturday that did not include a rollback provision for local tax increases. Patrick, like Gov. Greg Abbott, had indicated he wanted the House to approve Senate Bill 2, to require local governments that want to raise property taxes by 5 percent or more to get voter approval, but that proposal stalled in the House.

On the bathroom front, Patrick said he had concerns about the “ambiguous language” the House approved as an amendment Sunday to address bathroom use by transgender Texans in public schools because it “doesn’t appear to do much.” The measure the House approved would require schools to provide single-stall restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities to students who don’t want to use facilities designated by “biological sex.”

“There is still time for the House and Senate to address these concerns — which are both priorities for Texas voters — in a meaningful way,” Patrick said.

Throughout the session, Patrick and Straus have been at odds over what should be the Legislature’s priorities. The lieutenant governor’s statement comes after a weekend of House votes on the issues that have emerged as sticking points in his efforts to push for Abbott to call a special session. The regular legislative session ends May 29.

Last week, Patrick had said he was prepared to go to a special session if the House did not act on the property tax issue and some version of a “bathroom bill.”

Abbott said both pieces of legislation were also priorities for him, though he has not publicly threatened a special session over the two items.

But following the House’s vote on the bathroom amendment, House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement that the governor made clear “he would demand action on this in a special session.”

Patrick had pushed for the House to move on Senate Bill 6, the measure his chamber passed out in March, to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans or to amend a bill with language from a related House measure. Both measures stalled in the House, which on Sunday approved a more narrow proposal.

Over the past few months, Straus was reticent to allow a vote on the Senate’s bathroom proposal, saying the issue felt “manufactured and unnecessary.”

And ahead of the House’s vote on the property tax measure — which was set on the House calendar ahead of Patrick’s special session ultimatum — Straus argued that the House had addressed the issue of offering taxpayers relief by focusing on a measure intended to reform the state’s complex school finance system.

A spokesman for Straus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Patrick’s statement.

Read related coverage:

Author:  ALEXA URA – The Texas Tribune

During Busy Saturday Session, House Moves on Key Pieces of Legislation

After moving at a glacial pace several times this Legislative session, the Texas House on Saturday kicked into high gear and passed measures that could help them avoid a special session.

The Texas House on Saturday moved closer to finalizing key pieces of legislation — from property taxes to the state budget — that could help avoid a return trip to Austin for a special session to take care of unfinished business.

In fewer than five hours, the 150-member chamber passed a key change on property taxes, as well as a measure to extend the life of state agencies — after a bill that would have prevented their shuttering fell short of a key deadline last week.

After the chamber gaveled out, the House members of the budget conference committee announced, with their Senate colleagues, that they had reached a deal to finalize the state’s 2018-19 budget. Then they began going over the details of the budget in a meeting that stretched into the evening.

On property taxes, the lower chamber unanimously approved an amendment that contained key language from Senate Bill 2 — which, among other things, requires local governments to give constituents more information about proposed property tax increases — and attached it to Senate Bill 669.

The House sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, had been trying to move the legislation for weeks, and it wasn’t scheduled to come to the House floor until early next week.

The Senate bill is an item Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has deemed must-pass legislation — he threatened on Wednesday to ask Gov. Greg Abbott to call lawmakers back for a special session if that and other measures didn’t pass. Whether Bonnen’s amendment is enough for Patrick and the more conservative Senate is still unclear: Bonnen’s amendment lacked a key provision that would require voter approval for some tax rate increases, something  Patrick stated repeatedly he wanted included.

Though House members clapped Bonnen on the back and collectively breathed a hearty – though temporary – sigh of relief, the Senate can choose to reject the changes to Senate bill 669 and run out the clock on the Legislative session that ends May 29.

Next up was another amendment to avoid a special session on another matter – the shuttering of some state agencies.

An amendment by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, would extend the lives of several state agencies that were scheduled to “sunset” – or expire. A separate measure that dealt with that specific issue didn’t survive last week’s deadline for the House to pass bills on second reading.

But Price added his language to Senate Bill 80, a measure that seeks to streamline reporting requirements for state agencies. The Senate must now concur with the changes to SB 80 in order for Price’s amendment to survive.

“The goal of the amendment originally as contemplated would not have had to extend these agencies, but for the fact they were caught up in that last night on the calendar,” he said. “It goes hand in hand [so] yes, it had the effect of extending the agencies to 2021.”

The House also partially revived a school-lunch proposal that has tugged at Democrats’ heartstrings over the course of the last two weeks. After trying – and failing – three times to pass legislation to halt school districts from naming students without money in their school lunch accounts, Democrats finally amended a compromise version to a separate bill.

After the original bill by state Rep. Helen Giddings, D-De Soto, was repeatedly shot down by House Freedom Caucus members who objected to another unfunded mandate on schools, Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, added an amendment based on Giddings’ bill to Bernal’s Senate Bill 725, which would let school districts offer uneaten or donated food to a nonprofit to give to hungry students.

The amendment would allow schools to give free meals to students with no money in their accounts — but wouldn’t require schools to do so, which convinced the Freedom Caucus to finally let it through.

If the property tax and sunset proposals from the House placate Patrick and the Senate enough to cross those items off their hit lists, that would leave the “bathroom bill” as the only major stumbling block. The proposal would require that transgender people in Texas use public restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate.

The House has until Tuesday to pass Senate bills, but legislation can still be amended after that deadline.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Bill Aims to Improve “Shamefully Poor” Conditions in TX Nursing Homes

AUSTIN – The Texas Legislature could soon approve a bill to correct dangerous conditions in many of the state’s 1,200 nursing homes.

Senate Bill 932, designed to close loopholes in regulations and strengthen penalties for bad actors, is awaiting a House vote after being approved by the state Senate.

Its sponsor, Sen. Charles Schwertner, a physician from Georgetown, says studies show that 1 out of 4 Texas long-term care facilities is substandard.

“It’s very unfortunate that Texas is ranked the worst of the 50 states regarding the quality of nursing home care,” he states. “I believe it’s time to change that. I take very seriously our obligation to send a very clear and unambiguous message that we’re serious about protecting our most vulnerable citizens.”

A report by AARP Texas, entitled “Intolerable Care,” calls conditions in many nursing homes “shamefully poor,” and identifies thousands of serious health and safety violations.

Schwertner says the bill would require that the state’s Department of Aging and Disability Services inspect each nursing facility at least once every two years.

But Schwertner says the biggest improvement the bill would make is to change the “right to correct” rule, which, in theory, allows nursing homes time to fix a violation. In reality, he says it allows substandard conditions, and even abuse and neglect, to continue.

“The bill refines the progressive sanctions on the various types of violations,” he explains. “If nursing homes continue to violate various provisions of law, they can be fined in an increasing manner.”

Schwertner adds the bill is designed to give families confidence that their loved ones will be safe and well cared for in a nursing home.

“People realize they have loved ones – aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents – but they themselves could one day be residing in a nursing facility, and they want to make sure that the quality of nursing homes is improved,” he states. “I think that’s a universal, bipartisan issue.”

The measure is supported by the Texas Health Care Association, which represents the state’s nursing home operators.

Author: Mark Richardson – Texas News Service

Bill Would Allow Climate-Change Denial in Texas Classrooms

AUSTIN – A state legislative committee will consider a proposal that would allow climate-change denial to be taught in Texas public schools.

Texas is among several states considering laws that would block state and local school officials from limiting teachers to lessons using evidence-based science.

Jose Medina, deputy communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, says House Bill 1485 cites academic and religious freedom for proposing to strip both elected and appointed school administrators of the power to determine curriculum.

“In essence, it says a teacher can bring any theory they like into the classroom, and their superiors at the school or at the state level are powerless to stop them,” he says. “And it specifically singles out evolution and climate change.”

In addition to Texas, similar bills are under consideration in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Alabama, Indiana, Florida and South Dakota.

Medina says a hearing on HB 1485, sponsored by freshman Rep. Valoree Swanson, is set today in the House Education Committee. Swanson did not return a call requesting a comment.

Medina believes the bill is part of a trend to make it easier for teachers to present climate science and evolution as controversial ideas rather than settled science.

He adds that backers say it is not designed to promote religious doctrine, but that opponents of science-based instruction have used the “academic freedom” approach in the past.

“For years, the term ‘strengths and weaknesses’ have been used by the creationist movement to attack evolution,” he explains. “This is an end run, around not just the state board of education but school administrators that might want to teach just accurate, sound science in the classroom.”

Medina says the Texas Freedom Network will be among a dozen or more groups and individuals speaking against the bill at today’s hearing. If the measure is approved by the committee, it must be passed by the full House and then the state Senate.

Author: Mark Richardson, Public News Service (Texas)

Texas Teachers Have Mixed Opinions on Bid to Reduce State Tests

The House Public Education Committee heard a bill that would pare back the number of required standardized tests, in line with the wave of legislation limiting high-stakes testing in public schools.

Jennifer Stratton said her third-grade son has been on the honor roll for the last three quarters but is anxious his progress could be erased if he does poorly on standardized tests.

She testified Tuesday before the House Public Education Committee to support House Bill 1333, which would scale back the number of required standardized tests and reduce its importance in rating schools and districts.

HB 1333 is one of several this session aimed at limiting the high stakes of standardized testing across the state.

The House is expected to soon hear a bill that would radically change the proposed A-F accountability system to be more palatable to educators, who do not want their ratings tied to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. And the Senate could pass a bill as soon as this week allowing students who fail required exams to graduate by submitting alternative coursework to a committee of teachers and administrators.

HB 1333, proposed by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would slash the number of required state tests from 22 to 17, allow districts to choose their own test providers with state oversight, reduce the weight of the state STAAR exam when rating schools and districts, and allow districts to use national exams as alternative tests with federal approval. It would also disallow using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

“Students and educators are stressed — and rightfully so — preparing,” Isaac said Tuesday. “Taking the 22 exams required by state law steals valuable time from the children we are preparing to become the next leaders of our state and nation.”

Monty Exter, who represents the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said he supported most of the components of Isaac’s bill but not the provision that would let districts across the state use different tests.

Standardized tests are useful to compare data between different districts, especially when it comes to disadvantaged groups of students, he said.

Texas Aspires, a nonpartisan group that lobbies for increased testing and stricter accountability for schools, organized a few parents and teachers to testify against Isaac’s bill.

Stefanie Garcia, a teacher in Keller ISD, said her students failed the STAAR exam because they had not absorbed the content and were not on track to move up a grade level. “Before, no one noticed that they could not really read and write,” she said.

Weakening the system that holds educators and schools accountable for student learning would mean more students would slip through the cracks, she said. “Because that failure actually mattered, now they are ready to graduate,” she said.

Molly Weiner, director of policy for Texas Aspires, argued Isaac’s bill would cut out standardized tests in subjects that are important for measuring student growth. “For the system to work, we need objective comparative data and it must be weighted heavily in our accountability system,” she said.

A State Board of Education survey in 2016 showed parents, teachers, students and business leaders agree state test results should not be tied to high school graduation or promotion to the next grade level. Instead, they want test scores to be used to see where specific students need more support.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The House Public Education Committee passed a bill to overhaul a proposal to give schools and districts grades between A and F, to try and get educators on board with the accountability system.
  • The Texas Senate Education Committee heard Tuesday from supporters, and a few critics, of a bill that would make permanent a 2015 law that allows students to graduate even if they haven’t passed their required exams by going before a graduation committee.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

Controversial Insurance Bill Moving in Legislature

Texas property owners could face new hurdles when they try to sue their insurer over storm claims under controversial legislation being cheered by groups seeking curbs on lawsuits but jeered by consumer advocates and some businesses.

Senate Bill 10 emerged this week from a Senate committee that narrowed the bill to include only storm lawsuits and property damage claims. A few days earlier, Dallas businessman Brint Ryan, a Republican megadonor who had been opposed to a more expansive incarnation of the bill, endorsed the effort.

Ryan’s name was on a long list of high-profile business supporters put out by the chief group promoting the bill, Texans for Lawsuit Reform. The list included heavyweights such as San Antonio billionaire Red McCombs, Dallas billionaire Ross Perot, Jr. and Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans.

Ryan, founder and CEO of Dallas-based tax services firm Ryan LLC, sent a letter this week to House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, signaling his support.

“The Texas economy leads the nation in part because our state’s leadership has worked to stop lawsuit abuse whenever and wherever it happens,” Ryan said in the letter. “Unnecessary litigation creates the equivalent of a tort tax that hampers economic growth and is a burden on all consumers and job creators.”

Other businesses have signaled opposition, exposing a rift in the coalition that in past years supported legislation that imposed curbs on the ability to file lawsuits; among those who remain opposed is the billionaire Bass family of Fort Worth, according to the family’s Austin lobbyist, Rusty Kelley. Also against is Huntsman Corporation, a chemical company based in The Woodlands, said the company’s vice president of government relations, Troy Keller.

“We are opposed to the bill because it disadvantages companies in front of insurers, and that’s been our position throughout,” Keller said. “It hasn’t changed.”

The bill would erect new requirements for policyholders, including pre-lawsuit notice provisions that are more stringent than current law and changing the penalty rate on insurers who don’t pay claims in a timely way from 18 percent to a floating rate that today would equal 10 percent.

Opponents say it will also cause many high-dollar claims to go to federal court, where lawsuits would take longer and cost more, but TLR disputes that interpretation of the bill.

TLR CEO Richard Weekley said the bill is needed because “property owners want strong accountability for storm-chasing lawyers who are abusing the legal system and jeopardizing affordable insurance coverage for us all.”

Consumer advocates and trial lawyer interests say the law will make it harder for average Texans to collect from foot-dragging insurance companies.

Earlier this week AARP, representing senior Texans, threw in with the opposition, saying in a memo to key House leaders that the legislation stacks the deck too much in favor of insurers.

“It remains too broad and shifts the claims-handling process too much towards insurance companies, beyond current law and practice,” said Tim Morstad, associate state director for advocacy at AARP Texas.

Lin McCraw, president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, said those pushing the bill will punish everyone who files a storm-related lawsuit, not just those making “fraudulent claims.”

“These bills don’t distinguish between valid claims and those that are not,” McCraw said. “Instead they take a one-sided approach that benefits insurance companies at the expense of honest property owners.”

Disclosure: Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the McCombs Foundation, Rusty Kelley, Ross Perot Jr., the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and AARP Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune.  A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Author: JAY ROOT – The Texas Tribune

Groups Oppose Bills to License ICE Detention Centers for Child Care

AUSTIN  – A bill in the Texas Legislature aims to overturn previous court rulings barring state officials from licensing federal detention centers as child-care providers.

A coalition of groups is opposing House Bill 2225 and a companion Senate bill, which would allow federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers in Dilley and Karnes City to be licensed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Laura Guerra-Cardus, deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Texas, said the facilities primarily house mothers and their children seeking asylum as they await court hearings.

“There’s very well-documented research,” she said, “that shows that detaining children, especially already traumatized children, is incredibly harmful for their physical and psychological development.”

Last year, hundreds of families were released from detention after a Texas judge barred the state from licensing ICE facilities as child-care centers. Guerra-Cardus said most of the asylum seekers are fleeing violence in Central America. The bills’ Republican sponsors have said the measures are intended to ensure humanitarian treatment of refugees.

The ICE facilities, sometimes called “baby jails” by their critics, are operated by private corrections companies. Guerra-Cardus said housing refugees in community-based settings is preferable to the detention centers, which she said are operated like prisons.

“The staff at these detention centers are largely individuals who have worked in jails or prison settings. So, their training is not child friendly and child appropriate.”

Guerra-Cardus said detention not only is an inappropriate setting for children but also isn’t necessary. Records show that 98 percent of asylum seekers represented by an attorney show up for court dates.

“We don’t think that providing additional oversight from a state agency, and the justification of making a bad situation a little bit better for children, is valid,” she said. “You can’t fix the harm from these detention centers.”

She cited concerns that for-profit operators have financial incentives to increase both the number of detainees and the length of time they’re detained.

The bills await further action in the Texas House and Senate. The text of HB 2225 is online at capitol.state.tx.us.

Author – Mark Richardson, Public News Service

House Committee Advances Scaled-Down “Sanctuary Cities” Bill

The latest version of the Texas Legislature’s bill to outlaw sanctuary cities in Texas is a scaled down version of what the state Senate passed out in February.

But the measure is still a bitter disappointment to Democrats and progressive groups who say the changes will do little to ease the fears of the immigrant community who will be less likely to report crimes.

The bill, Senate bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, passed out of the House State Affairs committee Wednesday after a 7 to 5 party line vote. The House version is being carried by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.

Like the senate version, it still makes sheriffs, constables and police chiefs subject to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold non-citizen inmates subject to removal — usually booked on crimes unrelated to immigration violations.

But the House version only allows peace officers to ask people about their immigration status if they are arrested and not those who have been solely detained for other reasons.

Despite the changes, some Democrats still argued that cops shouldn’t be in the immigration-enforcement business.

“It still creates a chilling effect for immigrants to work with local law enforcement and it still perverts the mission of local law enforcement,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “You can be arrested for anything, virtually. It doesn’t require due process, it simply requires probable cause.”

The House bill also kept in tact the Senate’s requirement to include college campuses in the bill’s provisions. Anchia said that could lead to deportation for college students for something as minor as being in the possession of an open container of alcohol, which would normally result in citation.

But Geren said he worked diligently on the bill to try and appease some of its critics. His version clarifies that it doesn’t apply to public schools or hospital districts, and he added a provision where law officers hired by religious organizations wouldn’t be subject to the bill’s requirements.

Geren also changed language in the bill to make a punishment only applicable to the head of the law enforcement agency deemed non-compliant. The Senate version allows the state to withhold funds from the entire local government body, similar to a punishment Gov. Greg Abbott issued to Travis County earlier this year after Sheriff Sally Hernandez decided she would only cooperate with federal immigration officials on a very limited basis.

“There is no need to remove the state grants funds” from the entire government body, he said. “That goes beyond just targeting the jail.”

But the House version also keeps in the civil penalties that could be as much as $25,000 for entities who adopt policies restricting cooperation with federal authorities.

The bill is expected to be debated by the full House sometime in the next couple of weeks, lawmakers said. That’s where it is likely to undergo another round of changes. Far-right Republicans have already tried to amend a Child Protective Services bill and the biennial budget bill to include immigration language. Though those attempts were unsuccessful, Anchia said Democrats should brace for what could be a lengthy floor fight.

One thing is clear however: lawmakers have no choice but to pass some type of bill. Abbott has identified the legislation as a priority, prompting speculation that lawmakers would be called back for a special session this summer if the bill fails to reach his desk.

Read more:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Outlook Good for Statewide Texting-While-Driving ban, Key Lawmakers Say

After pushing the issue for nearly a decade, key lawmakers in the Texas Legislature are optimistic that a statewide texting-while-driving ban is within reach.

Texas is one of four states that do not have a statewide ban on texting and driving. That distinction has drawn renewed attention in recent days following an accident in West Texas in which a truck driver who was texting and driving crashed into a church bus and killed 13 senior citizens.

State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, author of the texting ban bill that recently passed the House, said about the accident: “It’s a tragic situation. It’s a wasted situation.”

Craddick, who has pushed for the ban for four sessions in a row, offered condolences to the victims, their families and the church in a statement last week.

“No message or e-mail is important enough to risk injury or death while driving on our Texas roadways,” Craddick said.

If Texas had passed a texting-while-driving ban when Craddick first filed a bill creating one in 2011, Texas would have been the ninth state to pass such a law, he said. If House Bill 62 passes this session, it will be the 47th.

In 2015 and 2013, Craddick’s proposal passed the House but died in the Senate. In 2011, it traveled through both chambers only to be vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, who said it would “micromanage the behavior of adults.”

In the 2015 session, a group of conservative senators helped kill the proposal, arguing that it could lead to unreasonable searches by police, among other concerns.

This year, both Craddick and the measure’s most vocal advocate in the Senate, Judith Zaffirini, are hopeful the measure will draw enough support in the upper chamber and Gov. Greg Abbott will sign it.

There are some members in the Senate who have voted against a statewide ban in the past that are now saying they are going to vote for it, Craddick noted.

One of them is state Sen. Craig Estes, who said in March, according to KUT, “When we first started working on this, I was a ‘no,’ and then I almost had a terrible wreck.”

Other senators have changed their minds over the years as they have grown more sensitive to the prevalence of the issue and the consequences of inaction, Zaffirini said.

“The first time I carried it in 2009, nobody was interested in it but I kept on. Now more people understand it,” Zaffirini said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has also changed course on the legislation. In 2011, he said to pass a law on texting and driving is “one more nanny state intrusion on our lives.”

This session, he said in a radio interview on KRLD, that he is uncertain whether there is enough support in the Texas Senate for the ban, but suggests he backs it. “Personally, I don’t think people should be taking their eye off the road,” Patrick said. “I have evolved on the issue personally over the past several years. It’s clear now it’s a serious issue.”

Under his proposal, offenders would be charged with a misdemeanor and be fined $25 to $99. Repeat offenders would have to pay between $100 and $200 in fines.

Craddick pointed to research from Alva Ferdinand, an associate professor in health policy and management at Texas A&M, who has said a statewide ban could prevent 90 deaths a year. The most effective way to curb deaths related to people texting-and-driving is to make it illegal, he said, comparing the move to the law that people in cars wear seat belts.

“No one ever thought seat belts would go into effect and now it’s just standard use to buckle up. Only once it became law did most people start to buckle up,” Craddick said.

About three dozen Texas cities already have a texting-and-driving ban in place. Cities would still be allowed to implement ordinances that are stricter than the proposed state law under the current version of the legislation.

Read more:

Author:  SANYA MANSOOR –  The Texas Tribune

State Senator Jose Rodriguez’s Tuition Bill seeks to Return Control to Legislature

Senator José Rodríguez’s S.B. 442, which returns control of college tuition to the Texas Legislature, was heard in the Senate Higher Education Committee Wednesday.

Prior to 2003, the Legislature had regulatory authority to set tuition rates, generally mandating that the same tuition rate be charged across the state.  Then the Legislature passed House Bill 3015 (78R), which allowed unelected governing boards of public universities to set higher tuition rates.

Since tuition deregulation, the average cost of higher education has risen sharply. Increasing costs are pushing families to incur larger debt loads to attend state schools and pricing others out of higher education altogether.

“If the legislature is truly concerned about managing tuition, we should make those decisions ourselves,” Senator Rodríguez said. “Universities would make their case for tuition increases – just like state agencies make funding requests – and the buck should stop with us elected lawmakers.”

Senator Rodríguez’s bill is one of several approaches being considered by legislators in response to the tuition issue. Tuition and fees at Texas’ 38 academic institutions climbed 78 percent between 2003 and 2016, according to an analysis of Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board data by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. At the same time, state funding for higher education has declined.  Adjusting for inflation, the state’s per-student funding has declined 27 percent since 2003, according to the Coordinating Board.

SB 442 would cap tuition at the amount charged during the 2017-18 academic year beginning in the fall 2018 semester.  The bill would force the Legislature to authorize any increases in tuition after that academic year and once again be directly accountable to students and families for their funding of higher education.

NOTE: Senator Rodríguez authored an op-ed in the Texas Tribune’s TribTalk on the subject in May, 2016. It can be found here.

Socorro Renteria Realty 728×90