SENATE PASSES SB 1052 BY ZAFFIRINI TO PROVIDE FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGE STUDENTS

AUSTIN — The Texas Senate Tuesday (April 24) passed Senate Bill 1052 by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which would provide financial incentives for students who complete core curriculum requirements at community colleges to transfer to four-year institutions.

Providing incentives for students to transfer from two- to four-year institutions would increase college accessibility and affordability while helping increase attendance and participation at universities throughout Texas. The bill significantly would help close educational gaps within the state and promote student success and institutional excellence.

“The rapid growth of our state, coupled with the goal of enrolling another 600,000 students in higher education, require planning and incentives,” Senator Zaffirini said. “By promoting transfers from two- to four-year institutions, we increase students’ options for success. SB 1052 is essential to closing the gaps in higher education by providing an incentive for students to transfer from two- to four-year institutions.”

SENATE PASSES SB 120 BY ZAFFIRINI TO STRENGTHEN LAWS PREVENTING ONLINE SOLICIATION OF MINORS

AUSTIN — The Texas Senate today (Monday) passed Senate Bill 120 by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which would help protect children from online solicitation and exploitation by establishing a clearinghouse of educational resources related to Internet safety at the Texas School Safety Center. The bill also would direct school districts to update their discipline management programs to prevent the use of the Internet for sexual solicitation and would increase the penalty for an adult convicted of online sexual solicitation of a minor.

“Children are especially vulnerable to victimization over the Internet,” Senator Zaffirini said. “More and more children are using the Internet on a daily basis, which provides offenders with easy and anonymous means to find and exploit them.

SB 120 addresses this growing problem by increasing the educational resources regarding online solicitation that are available to families and schools and by providing school districts with programs designed to combat and prevent online solicitation of minors.”

SB 120 works in conjunction with Zaffirini’s SB 6, which the Senator passed in March. SB 6 increases the penalty for sexually explicit on-line communications with a minor who is from 14 to 16 years old from a state jail felony to a third degree felony and increases the penalty for on-line sexual solicitation of a minor who is from 14 to 16 years old from a third degree felony to a second degree felony.

SB 6 also will require internet service providers (ISP) to respond immediately to subpoenas, search warrants or other court orders during an emergency; will allow prosecutors to seek consecutive prison sentences for the online solicitation of a minor; direct the Crime Stoppers Advisory Council to use state rewards programs to emphasize reporting and apprehending predators and criminals; and create a clearinghouse of ISP contact information in the Attorney General’s office so prosecutors can access important information necessary to prevent online predatory behavior.

ZAFFIRINI SECURES FUNDING FOR EDUCATION, SD 21 AS SENATE PASSES CSHB 1

AUSTIN — The Texas Senate today (Thursday) passed CSHB 1, which would allocate $152.9 billion to fund state programs. Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, secured funding for several top priority projects and institutions throughout Texas and within her senatorial district.

CSHB 1 includes more than a six percent increase in spending, compared with the previous (2005) legislative session’s budget. The Senate’s version of the budget, however, spends approximately $2.1 billion more than the House version.

“Working with Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Senate Finance Committee members, I am committed to developing a budget that prioritizes the needs of Texas families,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Communities in my senatorial district and throughout the state greatly will benefit from the funding we worked hard to secure in this budget.”

Included in CSHB 1 is a $21.3 million increase compared with current level spending for the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio (UTHSCSA) and a $13.8 million increase for Texas A&M International University in Laredo. Funding includes $3 million for expanding programs at the Laredo campus of UTHSCSA and $2 million for the Student Success Program and a PhD program in business at A&M International. Included in Article XI of CSHB 1 is $6 million for the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute – a joint program between UT San Antonio and the UTHSCSA.

What’s more, CSHB 1 includes $313 million for the debt service for $1.9 billion in tuition revenue bonds authorized by Senator Zaffirini’s HB 153 (2006), including $37.6 million for A&M International and $6 million for UT-Pan American’s Starr County Upper Level Center. The bill authorized 63 projects at 48 higher education institutions, the largest investment in higher education ever made in Texas.

Senator Zaffirini also secured $100 million in new grants for the Instructional Facility Allotment (IFA), which helps poor school districts with facility construction; $1.5 million for the Surplus Agricultural Product Grant Program, which offsets the costs of harvesting, gleaning and transporting agricultural products to Texas food banks; and $8.4 million for debt service for interest on $87.5 million for the Economically Distressed Areas Program, contingent upon passage of a statewide bond election.

CSHB 1 also includes $120 million above the bill as filed for state parks; $448.5 million for State Water Plan programs; $1 million for a new independent living center that could be established in Laredo; $5 million to help compete for a wind turbine contract located largely in Senate District 21; $5 million for waste tire remediation; and $800,000 to combat zebra chip disease threatening Texas potato crops.

“Although proud of much of what we have accomplished in this budget, more must be done to ensure Texas appropriately funds our priorities,” Senator Zaffirini said. “I look forward to working under the leadership of Lt. Governor Dewhurst and our colleagues in the legislature to ensure that we continue to serve persons most in need.”

The House version of the budget was passed on March 30, and members from both the House and Senate soon will be appointed to the Appropriations Conference Committee so differences in both budget versions may be reconciled.

SENATE PASSES ZAFFIRINI’S CHILD PASSENGER SAFETY BILL

AUSTIN — The Texas Senate today (Wednesday) passed Senate Bill 60 by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which strengthens current child passenger safety protections. The bill requires that children 7 years and younger, unless they are four-feet nine-inches tall, be secured in a child passenger safety seat while riding in a motor vehicle.”This is a bill that will save lives, preclude tragedies and injuries and qualify Texas for $3.2 million in federal funds while saving the state $17 million in health care expenditures,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Each year more than 1,600 children die in vehicular accidents, which is the leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death among children 14 years and younger. SB 60 will strengthen Texas child passenger safety laws and ensure a greater level of public safety.”

In 2005 the legislature directed the Texas Department of Public Safety Committee on Child Passenger Safety to examine the need for a booster seat law in Texas. The committee advised Texas to pass a law based on national recommendations. SB 60 reflects the committee’s recommended language.

The DPS Child Passenger Safety Committee determined that SB 60 would reduce Texas health care expenditures by more than $17 million and that that an average $30 booster seat generates $2,000 in cost benefit savings. What’s more, by raising child passenger safety standards, Texas also will be eligible for $3.2 million in federal transportation grants each year from 2008 to 2009.

Current law requires only children who are younger than five and shorter than 36 inches be secured properly in child-passenger safety seats during the operation of a vehicle. Children between the ages of five and eight and who are between 36 and 57 inches represent an age group that is at great risk of death or severe injury due to the gap in current law. SB 60 will eliminate this gap and strengthen current child passenger safety protections.

Originally SB 60, as recommended unanimously by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, included a four-month temporary grace period to inform Texas drivers about this new measure and a fine for non-compliance between $100 and $200. Senator Zaffirini today amended the bill to extend the warning period from four months to one year and reduce the penalty to $25, instead of up to $200.

“I amended SB 60 because we want to educate parents about the importance of booster seats and child passenger safety, not punish them,” Senator Zaffirini said. “A one year grace period will allow the state to inform more families and increase the impact this bill will have on public safety.”