Senator Zaffirini Passes 79 Bills During 2011 Session

(AUSTIN, TX) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, passed another 79 bills during the 2011 legislative session, bringing her total to 727 since 1987. Her legislation will strengthen local communities; enhance public safety; reduce wasteful spending; improve educational programs; increase affordability, accountability and excellence in higher education; and promote health and human services for the very young, the very old and persons with disabilities.

“Because of the significant budget shortfall, the 82nd Texas Legislative Session was exceedingly challenging,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Despite this and other hurdles, we persevered in making a difference for the families of Senate District 21 and of our great state.”

Senator Zaffirini, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and Co-Chair of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, passed 30 bills related to higher education.

Enhancing financial aid programs for Texas families is one of Senator Zaffini’s top priorities in the Texas Senate. Her Senate Bill (SB) 28, sponsored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, reforms the TEXAS Grant program, which has helped thousands of Texas families afford to send their children to college. The bill will prioritize grants for high-achieving, low-income students.

With its multitude of deadlines, the financial aid process can be confusing for families sending a first child to college. SB 851, also by Zaffirini and Branch, creates a single statewide financial aid deadline for all public four-year universities in Texas.

Senator Zaffirini and Rep. Branch also collaborated in passing SB 29, which will allow students who are recipients of graduate fellowships to participate in university health insurance programs. The bill will help increase the number of fellowships accepted at Texas colleges and universities and help institutions maximize research funding. What’s more, House Bill (HB) 2910 by Branch and Zaffirini creates the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Challenge Scholarship Program, which will promote training in high-tech fields and help ensure the Texas workforce remains competitive in today’s global economy.

SB 5 by Zaffirini and Rep. Branch removes unfunded mandates and relieves administrative burdens placed on higher education institutions related to duplicative and unnecessary reports. HB 1000, also by Branch and Zaffirini, continues a multi-session effort to expand and enhance national research universities in Texas by providing a criteria-based incentive and distribution methodology for the National Research University Fund.

Academic advising at universities will be improved by SB 36, which brings academic advisors into the state’s accountability system. Quality academic advising is key to student success, and the bill will help ensure that students are receiving effective, appropriate academic advising from qualified academic advisors. Senator Zaffirini’s bill was sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.

Accountability also is the focus of Senator Zaffirini’s SB 38, which was passed after being attached to SB 1534 by Senator Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. The bill brings for-profit and career colleges into the state’s higher education accountability system.

A member of the Health and Human Services Committee since 1987, Senator Zaffirini always has championed quality care and respectful treatment for persons with disabilities. Her SB 37, sponsored by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, authorizes the statutory continuation of the Promoting Independence Advisory Committee. The committee plays a key role in helping Texans with disabilities live in the community or with their families, instead of in costly institutional settings.

SB 41 by Zaffirini and Rep. John Davis, R-Houston, prohibits the use of prone holds, straitjackets and other dangerous, ineffective restraints in State-Supported Living Centers. The hurtful slur “retarded” is eliminated from state statutes by HB 1481 by Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, and Zaffirini. The bill requires state agencies to use respectful language when referencing persons with disabilities.

HB 3724 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Zaffirini requires implementation of an early detection plan for prevention, early screening, diagnosis and management of chronic kidney disease. HB 2904 by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, and Zaffirini makes the Glenda Dawson Donate Life-Texas Registry a more effective tool in registering citizens of Texas to become organ, tissue and eye donors and reduces the cost to state government of operating the registry.

Protecting children with food allergies is the focus of Senator Zaffirini’s SB 27. Sponsored by Rep. Branch, the bill requires public school systems to adopt guidelines that could help prevent deadly allergic reactions, thereby averting tragedies.

A longtime champion of early childhood education, Senator Zaffirini continued her legislative efforts to ensure wider access to quality childcare. Her SB 264, sponsored by Rep. Guillen, will ensure that parents are informed consumers by requiring local workforce boards to provide them with information about quality child care indicators for each child care provider in the area. Childcare employee training is enhanced by SB 265 by Zaffirini and Rep. Stefani Carter, R-Dallas.

Senator Zaffirini believes that reading fosters a lifelong love of learning for children of all ages. Accordingly, HB 2139 by Rep. Guillen and Zaffirini would establish an Adopt-A-Library program to encourage public and private entities to invest in public libraries throughout Texas.

Public safety is consistently ranked among the top concerns of Texans. Senator Zaffirini’s SB 250 will help more victims of stalking obtain life-saving protective orders. She passed her SB 46 as an amendment to HB 242 by Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, prohibiting texting-while-driving on Texas roadways. What’s more, HB 2138 by Rep. Guillen and Zaffirini will enhance the cooperative efforts between game wardens and state military forces in water-related rescues.

Volunteer fire departments play a critical role in protecting rural communities, especially during times of wildfire and drought. SB 1927 by Zaffirini and Rep. John Garza, R-San Antonio, authorizes volunteer firefighters to hold 10 fundraisers a year, thereby allowing departments to raise more funds for equipment, training and travel expenses.

SB 61 and SB 209, authored by Senator Zaffirini and sponsored by Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, will establish minimum guidelines and supervision standards for juvenile case manager.

This Memorial Day Senator Zaffirini is especially proud to have worked with local veterans groups to rename portions of State Highways 359, 16 and 285 as the Veterans of the Korean War Memorial Highway. The bill was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo.

Improving government efficiency and eliminating unnecessary spending is another priority addressed by Senator Zaffirini’s legislation. HB 326 by Rep. Guillen and Zaffirini requires agencies and departments under sunset review to submit to the legislature the unnecessary and duplicative reports that can be eliminated to save on costs.

“I am grateful for Lt. Governor David Dewhurst’s leadership and for the opportunity to work closely not only with my colleagues in the Senate and the House, but also with local leaders, educators and community and health advocates to develop and pass legislation benefitting SD 21 and our great State of Texas.”

At the beginning of the legislative session Lt. Gov. Dewhurst re-appointed Senator Zaffirini Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and a member of the Senate Finance, Redistricting, Administration and Economic Development Committees. Later in the session, he appointed her Co-Chair, with Rep. Branch, of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency. She also serves on the Legislative Budget Board.

The bills passed by Senator Zaffirini have been sent to Governor Rick Perry for his consideration. The progress of these and other bills can be monitored via the internet at www.zaffirini.senate.state.tx.us or by contacting the Texas Legislative Reference Library at 512/463-1252.
A list of bills passed by Senator Zaffirini during the 82nd Legislature Regular Session

Statement from Senator Judith Zaffirini Regarding the Senate Budget

(AUSTIN) — “I voted against the appropriations bill (House Bill 1) because it does not reflect the values of Texas families and because it will have a severe, lasting and negative impact on our beloved state.

“Texas is at a crossroads: Access to quality education and higher education is critical to maintaining our state’s economic competitiveness. To meet the demands of employers and educate our rapidly growing population, we should be strengthening our commitment to higher education, especially as every dollar invested in higher education returns up to $18 to the Texas economy.

“The state budget formalized today, however, shortchanges higher education by more than $960 million and public education by $4 billion.

“At a time when we should be expanding access to college, this budget slashes financial aid programs drastically, especially for low-income students. As a result, 28,700 fewer low-income students will receive TEXAS Grants (a 27 percent cut), and the B-on-Time Loan program, which promotes timely graduation and student success, will assist 30 percent fewer students. Even the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee was quoted by Dallas Morning News as saying, the “budget is going to make it harder for poor kids to go to college.”

“In 2005 the legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board began an ambitious and important initiative called Closing the Gaps by 2015, which aims to close the gaps in student participation, student success, excellence and research. Instead of moving Texas closer to meeting those four goals, this budget makes it nearly impossible to achieve them. Instead of closing the gaps, it broadens the gaps and puts college out of reach for thousands of low-income Texas families.

“For the first time in memory, the budget initially was passed by both chambers of the legislature on party-line votes after most Democrats were shut out of the process.

“Some Republicans ignored our concerns and accused us of “frightening Texans” unnecessarily, but this budget truly is frightening.

“Unbelievably, it cuts health and human services programs that save the state money in the long run. Among the programs cut are the UT Community Outreach Program, which plays a critical role in reducing the high incidence of diabetes in South Texas, and prevention and early intervention services that keep at-risk children safe from abuse and out of the foster-care system.

“Also slashed are waiver programs that give older Texans and persons with disabilities the opportunity to live at home with their families or receive community-based care. Without these waiver programs, many will be forced to live away from their loved ones in more expensive institutional settings.

“The future fiscal implications of this budget are staggering. The American journalist George Horace Lorimer wrote, ‘Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible.’ Texans aren’t afraid to tackle tough problems, but Republican budget-writers missed no opportunity to delay or defer critical decisions, thereby failing to solve the state’s fiscal problems and creating new ones for future generations.

“Budget-writers used accounting gimmicks and tricks such as deferring payments to ‘solve’ the budget gap. What’s more, because the budget fails to fund Medicaid caseload growth, Texas will have to address a fiscal hole that is at least $4.8 billion larger in 2013. Instead of fixing the structural deficit they created in 2006, Republicans merely swept it under the rug.

“Some may congratulate themselves for achieving a balanced budget, but this budget tips the scales heavily toward severe cuts and accounting tricks. That’s not balanced. A balanced approach would require a thoughtful exercise in cutting wherever possible, while protecting safety net programs and preserving vital investments in Texas’ future.

“Some may believe that this budget reflects the values of the majority of the people in Texas. I strongly disagree. Countless Texans from Senate District 21 and across our state support our public school teachers and believe in helping the very young, the very old and persons with disabilities. They believe in investing in Texas’ future by strengthening public and higher education. This budget does not reflect those values.

“When the initial version of the budget was proposed in January, I hoped we would improve it by adding sufficient funding to protect the highest priorities and greatest needs of Texas families. Sadly, that did not happen. The budget approved today is fiscally irresponsible and morally wrong. Accordingly, I voted against it.”

Senate Passes Zaffirini Amendment Banning Texting While Driving

(AUSTIN) — The Texas Senate on Wednesday (May 25) voted to approve an amendment by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would ban texting while driving on Texas roadways.

“Keeping Texans safe on our highways is among my top priorities in the Texas Senate,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Prohibiting texting while driving would send a clear message that this activity poses a serious danger and would undoubtedly save lives.”

The amendment, which passed with bipartisan support, is similar to Senator Zaffirini’s Senate Bill (SB) 46. The measure would prohibit a driver from reading, writing or sending a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle, unless the vehicle is stopped. Voice-operated, hands-free and GPS devices would be exempt.

“Texting while driving endangers not only motorists, but also passengers, pedestrians and highway workers,” Senator Zaffirini said. “No text message or e-mail is important enough to risk injury or death on the road.”

Studies have shown that texting while driving is 23 times more dangerous than non-distracted driving and comparable to driving with a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. What’s more, one study found that drivers who text messaged while driving took their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds within a six-second interval (NCSL). This is the same as traveling the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour without looking.

At least ten cities, including San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, have passed local ordinances to prohibit sending, reading, or writing a text message while operating a moving motor vehicle.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, D-Laredo, speaks at a National Work Zone Memorial event, honoring the men and women killed in traffic accidents in roadway work zones across the United States. She champions legislation and funding that promote public safety on Texas roadways.

Texas Senate Approves Zaffirini’s Outcomes-Based Funding Bill

(AUSTIN) — The Texas Senate on Tuesday (May 24) unanimously voted to explore using outcomes-based funding to promote excellence and student success at Texas colleges and universities.

House Bill (HB) 9, sponsored by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and authored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, would direct the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to develop recommendations for funding policies that are based, in part, on student outcomes.

“Improving undergraduate student outcomes is critical to Texas’ future economic competitiveness and general welfare,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Our priority should be to consider funding mechanisms that align with our state’s higher education goals and focus on student success. This legislation is an important step in that direction.”

Texas public institutions of higher education are funded largely on the basis of semester credit hours. Accordingly, formula funding is appropriated to each college or university based on the number of students it educates. HB 9 would require THECB to make recommendations for outcomes-based formula funding inside and outside of formula funding. The bill would limit the outcomes-based recommendations to no more than 10 percent of base funding and would prohibit any reduction in funding for graduate education.

For each general academic teaching institution (four-year university), THECB could consider student success measures, including the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded; bachelor’s degrees awarded to at-risk students; bachelor’s degrees awarded in critical fields such as engineering, mathematics and health; and how the institution performs against a predicted graduation rate.

Potential student success measures at community and technical colleges include the number of students who completed developmental education in mathematics and English, who completed their first 30 semester credit hours at the institution or who transferred to a four-year college or university after completing at least 15 semester credit hours. Other possible considerations include the number of associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and certificates awarded.

Additionally, HB 9 would require THECB to consult regularly with institutions of higher education to review the aforementioned student success measures.

“A collaborative approach is key to the success of any outcomes-based funding initiative,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Instead of serving as an edict from on high, this bill would encourage cooperation between colleges and universities, the coordinating board and the legislature. What’s more, it would engage institutions in identifying and evaluating the most effective measures of student success.”

Finally, HB 9 would require THECB to develop a report identifying best practices for improving student outcomes and enhancing higher education governance, administration and transparency. The report would be submitted to the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, co-chaired by Senator Zaffirini and Rep. Branch.

Statement from Senator Judith Zaffirini Regarding the Retirement of Texas A&M University System Chancellor Dr. Mike McKinney

(AUSTIN) — “I am deeply grateful for Chancellor Mike McKinney’s dedicated service to the Texas A&M University System and to our great State of Texas. His leadership and expertise have benefitted not only the 19 A&M system institutions, but also Texas higher education in general.

“As determined as he is affable, Chancellor McKinney visited system campuses regularly, and he prioritized listening to the concerns of students, faculty, parents, administrators, legislators and alumni. I wish him the best in his retirement, and I am confident that he will be successful in his future endeavors.

“As Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee On Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, I look forward to continuing to collaborate productively with Texas A&M System leadership in maintaining a strong commitment to high-quality graduate and undergraduate education and in enhancing its flagship institution’s status as one of our nation’s top research universities.”

SENATOR ZAFFIRINI WINS 21 AWARDS FROM PRESS WOMEN OF TEXAS

(AUSTIN) — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, received 21 awards recently in a wide variety of media categories in the Press Women of Texas (PWT) 2010 Communications Contest. The award winners include her keynote speech to the Two-Year College English Association-Southwest (TYCA-SW), her tribute to philanthropists Joe and Teresa Lozano Long, newspaper editorials promoting respectful language and government transparency, news releases regarding legislation, her annual newsletter and a handbook.

Founded in 1893, PWT champions First Amendment rights, promotes awareness of professional standards in journalism and communications and provides valuable resources for women working in the communications arena.

Senator Zaffirini’s article, Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Eliminating Child Abuse in Our Community, won first place in the feature story daily newspaper category, and her keynote speech to TYCA-SW titled Panda, iPads and Punctuation: Promoting Traditional Writing in an Anything Goes World won first place in the speech category. A tribute speech titled The Greatest Gifts: A Tribute to Joe and Teresa Lozano Long, won second place in the same category.

Another first place winner was Senator Judith Zaffirini Reports to the Families of District 21, an annual newsletter highlighting Senator Zaffirini’s work in the Texas Senate. Informative articles regarding health care and human services legislation won first place, and news releases regarding redistricting and higher education issues won second. Two editorials, Let the sun shine in: Promoting open government in Texas and It’s time to purge hurtful R-word from our speech, won second place in the personal opinion column category.

“Winning with 21 of 22 entries reflects my commitment to using a variety of media to keep my constituents informed,” Senator Zaffirini said. “We communicate not only interpersonally, but also via all available news and social media. Constituents can ‘friend’ me on Facebook or register for my tweets. Equally important, my staff and I respond to every letter, email and telephone call.”

The senator has won more than 650 awards for her professional and public service work, including more than 120 for communication projects. Second in seniority in the 31-member Texas Senate, she is the namesake of United ISD’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Elementary School, Laredo Community College’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Library, Lake Casa Blanca International State Park’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Road and Edinburg’s Judith Zaffirini Residential Treatment Center that focuses on fighting drug addiction.

Zaffirini Bill Establishes Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Challenge Scholarship

(AUSTIN) — The Texas Senate on Friday (May 6) overwhelmingly voted to promote the recruitment, retention and graduation of students in high-tech disciplines by creating the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (T-STEM) Challenge Scholarship program.

A priority of Governor Rick Perry’s, Senate Bill (SB) 1729 would establish the T-STEM Challenge Scholarship program for students at community colleges who are pursuing degrees and certificates in these high-demand fields.

“SB 1729 helps ensure that our state’s workforce remains competitive in today’s global economy,” Senator Zaffirini said. “To compete for jobs in high-tech fields, Texas students need access to quality science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.”

In 2005 Governor Perry announced the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math initiative to further this goal. SB 1729 would allow the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to provide the scholarships to students in high-tech fields as long as at least 50 percent of the funding comes from private sources.

Senator Zaffirini, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, long has championed legislation to improve T-STEM education. In 2009 she passed SB 2262, which expanded opportunities for teachers to participate in math, science and technology teacher preparation academies. She also sponsored and passed HB 2235 (2009), which helped fund the construction of rural technology centers that prepare students for careers in applied technology and other highly-skilled industries.

SB 1729 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. The continued progress of this and all bills authored by Senator Zaffirini can be monitored via the internet at www.legis.state.tx.us or by contacting the Texas Legislative Reference Library’s toll free in-state hotline, 1-877-824-7038.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI joins Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in attending commencement ceremonies at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. As Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, Senator Zaffirini champions legislation and funding that support all Texas colleges and universities.

Senate Passes Zaffirini Bill Creating the Texas Women Veterans Program

(AUSTIN) — The Texas Senate on Thursday (May 5) unanimously voted to ensure that women veterans have equitable access to federal and state veterans’ services and benefits.

Senate Bill (SB) 34 by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would establish the Texas Women Veterans Program to conduct outreach to women veterans, thereby increasing awareness of VA benefits and assistance programs. It was co-authored by the other five women senators, namely, Senator Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth; Senator Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place; Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Senator Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; and Senator Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

“Texas has the second-highest population of women veterans—more than 156,000,” Senator Zaffirini said. “The Texas Women Veterans Program would address their unique needs and increase the number of women who receive critical VA benefits and healthcare services.”

Establishing the program would facilitate assessing the needs of women veterans and making recommendations for improvements to the Texas Veterans Commission.

“Too often, women veterans do not receive the services they need after completing their tours of duty,” Senator Zaffirini said. “These brave women selflessly have put their lives at risk for our freedom, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they have the assistance they need when they return to Texas.”

SB 34 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. The continued progress of this and all bills authored by Senator Zaffirini can be monitored via the internet at www.legis.state.tx.us or by contacting the Texas Legislative Reference Library’s toll free in-state hotline, 1-877-824-7038.

SENATOR JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, D-LAREDO, is a member of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Shown here with Colonel Sue Hechinger of the Texas National Guard, she champions legislation and funding for health care services for all veterans and servicemembers.

Statement from Senator Judith Zaffirini Regarding the Senate Budget

(AUSTIN) —“A budget is a moral document that should reflect the values and priorities of our state. This was the profound message of the Texas Catholic bishops when they visited the State Capitol last month. I voted against the Senate’s budget today (May 4) because I agree with the bishops and believe that this budget does not reflect the values and priorities of Texans, especially with respect to education and health and human services.

“Some seek to distract attention from the draconian cuts by emphasizing that the budget passed by the House of Representatives is significantly worse. Unfortunately, while the House budget is horrific, the Senate budget is simply awful.

“The Senate budget slashes public schools drastically and blocks or delays access to critical health services for thousands of older Texans, Texans with disabilities and Texans with chronic diseases. It underfunds public education by $4.7 billion and eliminates funding for full-day pre-kindergarten.

“What’s more, the bill significantly underfunds our higher education system by $923 million in state funds and slashes health and human services by $4.8 billion below minimum core services needs.

“Also slashed are programs that would save the state money in the long run, including mental health services, family planning, early childhood intervention and disease surveillance and vaccinations.

“Additionally, the Higher Education Subcommittee’s workgroup on Health-Related Institutions, which I chaired, had no additional funding to ameliorate the drastic cuts in the base bill. As a result, the Permanent Health Fund (PHF) for Higher Education was liquidated. It is strange that some who argue against tapping into the Rainy Day Fund in the name of fiscal prudence are willing to eliminate a fund meant to provide consistent funding for the institutions that train our desperately-needed doctors and health care professionals.

“This budget is not only morally wrong, but also fiscally shortsighted. The fiscal pressures amplified by Texas’ rapidly-growing population are enormous. Sadly, we have squandered an opportunity to cut responsibly, solve our ongoing structural deficit and invest in the future of our state.

“Texans deserve better.”

Statement from Senator Judith Zaffirini, Regarding Goals Outlined by UT System Board of Regents Chair Gene Powell

(AUSTIN) — “I respectfully but vehemently disagree with the goals outlined by the chair of The University of Texas System Board of Regents in his April 7 memorandum, as reported today (May 3) by Ralph Haurwitz in the Austin American-Statesman.

“Gene Powell’s interest in increasing enrollment at UT-Austin by 10 percent annually while reducing tuition by 50 percent flies in the face of making our flagship the ‘No. 1 public university in the U.S.’ In fact, the two goals clearly are mutually exclusive.

“At a time when regents should be working with legislators to minimize dramatic funding cuts and the possibility of liquidating the Permanent Health Fund for Higher Education, Chair Powell instead apparently is proposing changes that are detrimental to the pursuit of excellence. They are, however, consistent with his earlier—equally controversial—statement about pursuing a Chevy Bel Air education in lieu of a Cadillac.

“As Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, I am dismayed by the extensive negative publicity caused by the actions of Chair Powell. Since his election in February he has caused a firestorm of negativity that is detrimental to UT-Austin, to the system, to higher education in general–and to his relationship with legislators.

“‘Closing the Gaps’ in higher education should focus on increasing accessibility and affordability without sacrificing excellence. It’s about understanding how research and teaching/learning are intertwined inseparably, and it’s about collaborating with all who are passionate about higher education in increasing the value and quality of our degrees.

“We must eliminate distractions that are detrimental to the timely task at hand: trying to ensure that higher education is funded adequately and is offered relief from unfunded mandates.”