ZAFFIRINI, GUILLEN PRIORITIZE HEALTH, HUMAN SERVICES, EDUCATION AND PUBLIC SAFETY AS LEGISLATURE PASSES $153 BILLION BUDGET

AUSTIN — More Texans currently waiting for community-based care and home services will receive relief; higher education institutions in Senate District 21 and throughout the state will receive increased resources, including $313 million for the debt service for $1.9 billion in tuition revenue bonds for capital improvements; and more than $200 million will be allocated for state criminal justice programs under the committee substitute for House Bill 1, which was passed by the legislature Sunday (May 27).

Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, served on the Appropriations Conference Committee that wrote the final version of the $153 billion state budget. CSHB 1 includes approximately a seven percent increase in spending, compared with the previous (2005) legislative session’s budget. Senator Zaffirini also served as Senate chair of the Article II work group that was responsible for writing the state’s health and human services budget and as Senate co-chair of the higher education budget.

“I am proud of the conference committee’s hard work and am grateful for the leadership of Lt. Governor David Dewhurst in finalizing the state’s $153 billion budget,” Senator Zaffirini said. “CSHB 1 addresses several immediate and critical health policy concerns in Texas and provides essential funding for education and higher education institutions in South Texas. I especially am pleased that more funding will be allocated for reducing health and human services waiting lists and that significant funding will be provided for public safety and state criminal justice programs.”

“The state budget we worked on together,” said Rep. Guillen, “provides the funds I requested:

  • in Border Security for new local law enforcement officers and overtime;
  • in Education for teacher pay raises, for more money for retired teachers, and for building new schools;
  • in Health Care for 127,000 more children covered by Children’s Health Insurance and a higher reimbursement rate for doctors who receive Medicaid payments, and
  • in funds to help low income families with their electric bills,
  • to improve our state parks, and
  • to fund programs to keep people from being sent to state prisons when probation or other measures will suffice.”

Senator Zaffirini secured additional funding to reduce waiting lists for community-based, home services and care for low-income children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. The final version of the state budget includes $193.2 million for waiting list reduction and rate increases. This funding will remove more than 14,000 persons from interest and waiting lists and will serve more than 8,300 persons during the 2008-09 biennium.

The $314 million appropriated for the debt service for $1.9 billion in tuition revenue bonds authorized by Senator Zaffirini’s HB 153 (2006), includes $37.6 million for Texas A&M International University 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.

What’s more, the budget includes a $21.3 million increase for the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio (UTHSCSA) and a $13.8 million increase for A&M International, including $5 million for the Student Success Program and a PhD in business and $2 million for faculty enhancement. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio will receive $5 million for the operations of the Regional Academic Health Science Center and $3 million for their Laredo Campus Extension.

Another $6.7 million will be allocated to the Texas A&M System for a South San Antonio Campus System Center and $5 million to the University of Houston wind energy project, a large part of which is located in SD 21.

Senator Zaffirini and Rep. Guillen also helped secure $88 million in new grants for the Instructional Facility Allotment (IFA), which helps poor school districts with facility construction; $170 million to restore the System Benefit Fund to provide utilities services discounts for low-income customers; $1 million for a new independent living center that could be established in Laredo; $5 million for the Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance Grant (DEAAG); $53 million to support access roadway projects for colonias; $1.6 million to combat zebra chip disease threatening Texas potato crops; $1.2 million to increase Food Bank distribution; and $10 million for the debt service for $50 million in new bonds to provide financial assistance to rural communities with populations of less than 5,000 for water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

Funding allocated for education and health and human services includes a $4.6 million increase for prevention services at the Department of Family and Protective Services; $32.1 million in bond proceeds to complete the Texas Center for Infectious Disease in San Antonio; a $19.7 million increase for breast and cervical cancer programs; and a $17 million increase for tuberculosis and HIV programs.

Funding allocated for public safety and state criminal justice programs includes a $6 million increase for the Crime Victims Compensation Fund for victim services; $247.4 million for border security; $6.1 million for the Bexar County Detox/Mental Health Project; $48.8 million to address the Department of Justice issues raised regarding Texas state schools; and a $2 million increase for family violence programs.

ZAFFIRINI RECEIVES COMMUNICATIONS AWARDS

AUSTIN — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, received six awards in the 2006-07 Press Women of Texas Communications contest. She received two first-place awards for her motivational children’s book, If Judy Pappas Can Do It, Anybody Can! and for her 2006 University of Texas at Austin Law School commencement speech titled “Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides?”

Senator Judith Zaffirini Reports to the Families of District 21, an annual newsletter for constituents, won third place. News releases announcing her pre-filed legislation for the 2007 legislative session and her appointment as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Capital Funding for Higher Education won second and third places, respectively. A media advertisement wishing her constituents a happy holiday season won honorable mention.

The Press Women of Texas and the National Federation of Press Women hold an annual competition to recognize excellence in writing and communications. Award categories range from news reporting to books.

Sweepstakes and group awards are given to top winners from newspaper, university and individual or “other” participant classifications. Zaffirini placed fourth overall and first in the individual grouping.

“I am delighted and honored to receive these awards from the Press Women of Texas, of which I have been a member since 1973.” Senator Zaffirini said. “I especially am pleased that If Judy Pappas Can and my senatorial district newsletter won these coveted awards.”

If Judy Pappas Can Do It, Anybody Can! was published by the Laredo National Bank/BBVA, for students at Zaffirini Elementary School. It highlights milestones from her first memory of learning to read at the age of three to her accomplishments as a state senator.

Last May Senator Zaffirini delivered the commencement address to the 2006 class of UT Law Students. Her speech impressed upon the new attorneys their responsibility for answering the critical questions of our day, particularly: Who lives? Who dies? Who decides? Her son, Carlos Zaffirini Jr., was among the graduates.

Senator Zaffirini has won more than 560 awards for her professional and public service work, including more than 100 for communication projects. This year she received the 2007 Leadership Award from the Arc of Texas for outstanding support and advocacy for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and received a gavel from Lt. Governor David Dewhurst for casting her 35,000th consecutive vote in the Senate.

TEXAS LEGISLATURE PASSES HB 741 BY ZAFFIRINI, KING AND GUILLEN TO EXPAND HIGHER EDUCATION TUITION EXEMPTIONS FOR DEPENDENTS OF VOLUNTEER PEACE OFFICERS

AUSTIN — Dependents of volunteer law enforcement officers who were killed or disabled in the line of duty will be exempt from higher education tuition and fees under legislation passed Monday (May 14) and sponsored by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, and Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City.

“The brave men and women who lay their lives on the line daily to protect small and rural communities often do so voluntarily,” Senator Zaffirini said. “HB 741 would provide financial relief from the costs of higher education for the sons and daughters of many volunteer peace officers who died or became disabled serving families and communities in our Senate District 21 and throughout Texas. I am delighted to sponsor this legislation and thank Rep. King and Rep. Guillen for their leadership in authoring HB 741.”

“Every student deserves the opportunity to pursue a higher education,” Rep. King said. “HB 741 extends this opportunity to the children of volunteer peace officers, who, like all other law enforcement officials, risk their lives every day for the safety and betterment of our communities. The tuition and fee exemption for the children of these individuals is a small token of gratitude for the sacrifices they made to protect Texans everywhere.”

“The importance of citizen participation in law enforcement and the debt that our communities owe to volunteers who are killed or disabled because of their dedication must be recognized. It has been a pleasure to work on this legislation with Senator Zaffirini to make that recognition a reality,” Rep. Guillen said.

Current law provides exemptions from tuition and fees at public higher education institutions for the children of full-paid firefighters, police offices and volunteer firefighters who have been killed or disabled in the line of duty. Volunteer peace officers often receive the same training and fulfill the same duties as full-paid law enforcement officers

SENATOR ZAFFIRINI CASTS 35,000TH CONSECUTIVE VOTE

AUSTIN — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, today (Wednesday) received a gavel from Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, commemorating her 35,000th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate. Her unique career-long 100 percent voting record extends from January, 1987.

Senator Zaffirini’s legendary work ethic also is reflected in her 100 percent perfect attendance in the Texas Senate since 1987, except for breaking quorum deliberately in 2003 to prevent an untimely redistricting that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (2006) violated the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchised voters in her Senatorial District 21. Her voting record continued because no votes could be taken in the absence of a quorum.

In 1997 “State Legislatures” magazine highlighted her 15,000th consecutive vote in an article titled, “15,000 and Still Counting: The Tireless Texan.” No one responded to the magazine’s request for information about similar records in any other state.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to cast votes that prioritize the needs and interests of the families of SD 21 and of Texas,” Senator Zaffirini said. “This milestone chronicles my continuous commitment to work as hard as possible on their behalf.”

Last January she began her 21st year in the Texas Senate as the second-highest ranking senator.

Sen. Zaffirini’s recent legislative successes include passing bills to improve the processes by which state agencies solicit and manage contracts with vendors, redefine planning for higher education, provide financial incentives for community college students to transfer to four-year institutions, create a respite care program for informal caregivers, prevent the online solicitation and exploitation of minors, expand early education and her Texas Early Education Model program, improve community living options for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and strengthen child passenger safety.

This year Lt. Governor Dewhurst appointed Senator Zaffirini to serve as Chair of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and a member of the Senate’s Education, Health and Human Services and Administration Committees. He also recently re-appointed her to a seventh term on the Appropriations Conference Committee that will write the state’s $153 billion budget.

Zaffirini is the senior senator for Bexar County and from the border. She has passed 515 bills and 51 substantive resolutions and co-sponsored and passed another 253 bills.