Statement from Senator Judith Zaffirini, Regarding Department of Justice Investigation of All Texas State Schools

“The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently (Aug. 22) notified Gov. Rick Perry about the expansion of its Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) investigation to all state-run institutions for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The legislature has been advised from the beginning that DOJ investigations frequently are initiated at a single facility, and then are expanded to include the entire system. Accordingly, this statewide expansion is neither surprising nor unexpected.

“The cruelty that was reported at Lubbock State School and Denton State School is shocking, and I welcome the Department of Justice’s investigations. I have zero tolerance for abuse, neglect and exploitation and will continue to work to ensure that consumers of state school services receive the highest quality care from the State of Texas. Anything less is immoral.”

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Economic Development, Taxes Revenue, Healthcare Coverage Focus of Senate Finance Committee

(AUSTIN) — The Senate Finance Committee today (Tuesday) heard testimony about revenue estimates, the state economy and employee healthcare incentive plans. Specifically, witnesses testified about the state of the Texas economy and tax revenue collections, and healthcare experts proposed recommendations to improve employee insurance programs.

Representatives of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and leaders in the healthcare industry testified at the State Capitol and addressed the interim charges issued by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He directed the committee to evaluate the effectiveness of existing state tax incentives that encourage employers to provide health coverage to their employees, including tax incentives under the revised state business tax, and make recommendations for additional deductions or credits that increase the number of employees covered by health care insurance.

John Heleman, chief comptroller of public accounts, discussed the new margins tax and the estimated $1.4 billion shortfall, which may be offset by strong sales tax revenue that is projected to reach $400 million above the estimate at the end of the biennium, $6.8 billion in the rainy day fund, $2 billion in estimated surplus in general revenue and $3 billion in the property tax relief fund.

“Revenue estimates look good for the next biennium, however, it is too early to discuss the size of a surplus,” said Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. She is vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, serves on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and also chairs the Senate Finance Higher Education Subcommittee and the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee.

“There are many competing interests for state funding, and we must prioritize health and human services, public education, higher education and an estimated $14 billion needed to pay down property taxes.”

The committee will make recommendations to the 81st Texas Legislature that convenes on Jan. 13.

Parents, Advocates, Experts Testify before Senate Education Committee

(AUSTIN) — The Texas Senate Education Committee Monday (Aug. 18) sought solutions to problems related to providing services to students with special needs, including parental rights, transitional services and the roles of involved state agencies. Parents and education leaders testified at the State Capitol and addressed the interim charges issued by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He directed the committee to study the effectiveness of public school programs that serve students with intellectual challenges, including autism. Specifically, the committee is considering whether special education services are preparing students adequately for post-secondary opportunities.

Witnesses discussed the problems parents face during dispute resolution proceedings with school districts, including the challenges they face during mediation and litigation. There also was testimony regarding House Bill 1230 (2007) by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, related to services provided to youth with disabilities transitioning from school-oriented living to post-schooling activities, services for adults and community living.

The committee also is reviewing the availability and quality of the supports and services provided by adult services agencies for individuals with disabilities and is making recommendations for improving public school special education programs and the coordination of adult education services among state agencies.

Senator Zaffirini serves on the Senate Education Committee and also chairs the Senate Finance Higher Education Subcommittee and the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee.

“We must ensure that the needs of students with special needs are met,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Adequate state funding is critical to ensure the success of special education programs. Teachers should participate in appropriate continuing education, and the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be implemented adequately.

“When faced with a decision to challenge the school district’s ruling regarding a student with special needs, the high cost of legal fees often is prohibitive for low- and middle-income families to seek this route.”

She also emphasized “the importance of giving parents ample resources and support to communicate effectively with the school districts and preclude expensive litigation.”

The committee will make recommendations to the 81st Texas Legislature that convenes on Jan. 13.

Senator Zaffirini Announces Tax-Free Weekend

(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, announced today (Friday) that the 10th annual sales tax holiday will take place Friday-Sunday, Aug.15-17. The tax holiday will provide Texas families with much needed back-to-school savings, and, for the first time, school backpacks and messenger bags costing less than $100 also will be tax exempt

“Family budgets are stretched farther than ever, especially with the high price of gasoline, groceries and other necessities,” Senator Zaffirini said. “I am pleased that even more items qualify for tax-free status this year so that families may enjoy greater savings.”

Most children’s and adult’s clothing and shoes priced less than $100 can be purchased tax-free during the holiday. A complete list of items that will be tax exempt during the sales tax holiday is available at www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/taxpubs/tx98_490/tx98_490.html.

Since 1999 the clothing sales tax holiday has saved shoppers more than $388 million in state and local sales taxes.