April 25, 2009
Busy day yesterday

There were a lot of bills passed yesterday by one chamber or the other. My mailbox is full of press releases touting them. I'm going to go ahead and print them beneath the fold as a roundup. A few bills that got notice in the media:

- The Tim Cole Act passed out of the House.

Texans wrongfully convicted of crimes will get a much larger paycheck from the state for their incarceration under a bill tentatively approved by the state House today.

Wrongfully convicted persons currently are paid $50,000 in two installment payments. The new proposal would pay $80,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. An identical measure by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, is pending in the Senate.

"Think for a few moments about walking in their shoes," Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, one of the authors of HB 1736, told his colleagues.


The measure is known as Tim Cole Act to honor a former Texas Tech student wrongfully convicted of sexual assault. Cole died in prison from an asthma attack in 1999 - about halfway through a 25-year sentence.

"This bill cannot make people whole. But we can do better," Anchia said.

The measure passed on a voice vote without opposition and prompted applause in the chamber.

The record vote on third reading (PDF) was 136-1. I noted Anchia's bill last month. We'll see if it passes muster with Governor Perry. Grits has more.

- Ignoring a mandatory evacuation order for a hurricane and then needing a rescue may cost you in the future.

More than 20,000 people stayed on Galveston Island last year despite a mandatory evacuation order as Hurricane Ike approached the Texas coast. Allison Castle, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Pery, said there were 3,540 rescues in the region by state and local authorities, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

"They have that right to remain if they choose to," said bill author Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. "But they stay at their own peril, and they stay with the possibility that if recovery is necessary to preserve their lives, they'd pay the related cost.

"And that's potentially a lot of money."

The cost of a helicopter rescue is about $4,400 an hour.

I believe the bill in question is SB12, which passed unanimously on third reading. I agree with the principle of the bill, though I wonder what mechanism will be used to collect the fees from the people who will need such rescues. What if they claim they tried but were unable to get out? There will be an interesting legal battle over this some day, I expect.

- Not a bill, but the Senate budget conferees were announced. No word yet on the House contingent.

There were more bills passed, and we can expect a lot more action in the coming weeks. Click on for the press releases.

From Edinburg Politics:

For the first time, Texas government would be required to invest key resources, including financial support, to help bring a federal Veterans Administration Hospital to the Rio Grande Valley, thanks to a bill by Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Thursday, April 23.

Flores' proposal, House Bill 2217, was passed unanimously by the full House, and now will go to the Senate for their review and action.

According to the bill analysis of Flores' measure, HB 2217 would amend the Government Code to require the Texas Veterans Commission and the Department of State Health Services to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and any other appropriate federal agency to propose that the federal government establish the VA Hospital.

"By bringing the resources and expertise of these two state agencies into this partnership, we could wind up having the state government provide the land and build the VA Hospital, and have the federal government pay to operate and maintain the hospital," Flores envisioned.

From State Rep. Armando Walle:

Today, State Representative Armando Walle (D-Houston) passed House Bill 1633, a comprehensive graffiti reform bill, out of the Texas House of Representatives. House Bill 1633 requires graffiti offenders to complete a minimum number of community service hours and to provide restitution to the victim, updates the graffiti code to include all forms of paint and enhances penalties for three-time offenders to a state jail felony.

"My graffiti reform bill requires graffiti offenders to complete community service and gets tough on the offenders who won't learn from their mistakes," said Rep. Walle. "I was proud to have the support of Chairman Pete Gallego, the members of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and the Texas House of Representatives on this important bill."

House Bill 1633 was amended during the committee and floor debate process and includes the following four provisions:

* Requires graffiti offenders to complete a minimum number of community service hours;
* Requires graffiti offenders to complete restitution to the property victim;
* Amends the graffiti code to include all types of paint, not just aerosol paint; and
* Enhances penalties for repeat graffiti offenders by adding a "three strikes --you're out" policy making the third graffiti offense a state jail felony.

"Graffiti crime is a serious problem for our community and our state," said Rep. Walle. "My bill will force offenders to clean up their mess and give back to the community they defaced, deterring future offenses."

Representatives from the Houston Police Department, the City of San Antonio, the Houston Food Bank, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Council to Prevent Diplomacy, the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Apartment Association registered their support for House Bill 1633 when it was heard last month in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

From State Rep. Garnet Coleman:

I am excited to report that the Texas House passed legislation - House Bill 51- that has the potential to create 7 new tier one universities in the state. As a long time advocate of increasing Texas' investment in university research programs, I joined my colleague, Representative Dan Branch, by joint authoring HB 51 earlier this session. This bill would let seven public universities- including the University of Houston - compete for a new pool of state funds if they can attract major research grants, major endowment gifts, and top research faculty and staff.

Sadly, Texas currently has only two public universities classified as tier one institutions even though we have the second highest population in the nation. Texas students deserve more nationally respected options. The development of more top tier universities would open up seats of excellence available for Texas students, and would make our state more nationally and globally competitive.

The Legislative Study Group, a House Caucus that I chair, released an analysis and recommendations on the state of higher education in Texas last year. To read that report, click here.

HB 51 is sound public policy that is good for Texas students and Texas families. I am committed to improving the quality and accessibility of education to the people of Texas. I will continue to keep you up to date on this issue as session progresses.

From State Rep. Jessica Farrar:

I am happy to report that I passed HB 1793 out of the Texas House earlier today. This bill requires that municipal court and justice of the peace judges that hear certain cases involving juveniles receive training on child welfare issues and the Federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

My work in the community has taught me that juveniles that go before these judges many times have family problems or other issues in their lives that contribute to their problems with the law. I'd like to provide our judges with the information and preparation they need in order to help our youth get the help they need to stay out of future problems with the courts. I included the Federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act because youth receiving special education are disproportionately represented in judicial proceedings. Thank you to those of you that advocated on behalf of this bill and all bills that deal with children's issues.

From State Rep. Mike Villarreal:

Today the House of Representatives passed House Bill 415, legislation by Rep. Mike Villarreal to expand the number of small businesses that can establish on-site child care for their employees. The bill builds on legislation that Rep. Villarreal passed in 2007 to create the child care permit program for businesses with less than 50 employees. HB 415 aligns the program with the state definition of a small business by including businesses with less than 100 employees.

"As a parent, I know that so many of us struggle to balance the demands of work and family," said Rep. Villarreal. "This bill provides a new option for safe and affordable child care for many working families."

The state has struggled to develop policies to meet the child care needs of working parents. For example, over 30,000 children are currently on the state's waiting list for subsidized child care. The legislation does not aspire to meet the child care needs of all working families, but seeks to provide another option for some working families.

The bill was inspired by the working mothers at Guerra DeBerry Coody, a San Antonio public relations firm. The company has established an on-site child care center for employees' children and worked with Rep. Villarreal to develop state policies to facilitate such centers. The Wall Street Journal and Winning Workplaces recently named Guerra DeBerry Coody as one of the 15 "Top Small Workplaces" nationwide.

The statute includes a number of safety measures, including inspection by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), criminal background checks and training standards for staff, a requirement to maintain at least one adult for every four children, and limits on the number of hours per day and per week that a parent can be away from the workplace.

"This legislation is a win for everyone involved. It helps small businesses recruit and retain employees, gives parents an accessible child care option, and allows children to spend time in a safe environment near their parents," noted Rep. Villarreal.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 25, 2009 to That's our Lege

Thanks for the plug, Kuff. FYI I also had an item about Rep. Walle's graffiti bill.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast on April 25, 2009 10:13 PM
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