AUSTIN — Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, passed another 72 bills during the 2007 legislative session, bringing her total to 587 since 1987. This legislation will enhance border communities and colonias; strengthen laws that protect children; provide much needed resources for state health and human services; and increase higher education access, affordability and excellence.
“By working closely with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, coalitions from city and county governments within SD 21, higher education representatives, committed advocates within the state health and human services community and my colleagues in the Senate and House,” Senator Zaffirini said, “we continued to make a difference for families, students, persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities and Texans most in need of health and human services.”
Bills passed by Senator Zaffirini include Senate Bill 6, which protects Texas children and families from sexual communication and solicitation via the internet. Part of Lt. Governor Dewhurst’s Texas Children First plan, it will make the internet safer for Texas children. SB 6 was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg.
The bill 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.
Procedures for collecting and analyzing information relating to sexual offenses will be improved with the passage of House Bill 76 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin and Zaffirini. HB 401 by Rep. Betty Brown, R-Athens, and Zaffirini allows law enforcement officials to consider the use of text messages or other electronic message services when investigating the offense of online solicitation of a minor.
Senator Zaffirini’s bills passed relating to border affairs and enhancement of colonias include SB 99, which will support persons living in Texas’ most impoverished communities by increasing the number of state agencies required to submit data about projects that serve colonias. SB 99’s House sponsor was Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City. The bill also will increase accountability of the logistical and financial reports regarding colonia improvements made by agencies and by state and local governments.
SB 893 by Zaffirini and Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, authorizes counties along the Rio Grande to construct a railroad toll bridge.
Higher education affordability, access and excellence greatly was improved with the passage of SB 1050 by Zaffirini and Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, which creates new work-study opportunities by developing a program through which students could serve as peer mentors and tutors as part of their work-study financial aid program; SB 1051 by Zaffirini and Rep. Guillen, which provides waivers to the core curriculum for foreign students enrolled in international institutions in a joint-degree program with Texas colleges and universities; and SB 1053 by Zaffirini and Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, which requires the Higher Education Coordinating Board, advising professionals and higher education representatives to develop an assessment of advisors at institutions of higher education to improve the quality of advising.
HB 1427 by Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, and Zaffirini provides resources for recruiting economically disadvantaged students to the profession of optometry, and HB 1775 by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Nacogdoches, and Zaffirini authorizes the issuance of $13 million in tuition revenue bonds to expand the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Nursing.
Senator Zaffirini also passed bills that support local governments in SD 21. SB 63 by Zaffirini and Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville, helps Jim Hogg County offer more efficient county services and prevents the proliferation of colonias by providing the county with the same authority given to general-law municipalities. SB 404 by Zaffirini and Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Tourielles, D-Alice, codifies the statutory authority and administrative effectiveness of the Bee County Groundwater Conservation District. HB 2322 by Rep. Guillen and Zaffirini exempts Zapata County from the four percent limit on its hotel occupancy tax, which will increase revenue for the county to fund economic development activities.
Improving access to and the quality of state health and human services always are among Senator Zaffirini’s highest legislative priorities. HB 246 by Rep. Alonzo and Zaffirini increases the frequency and efficiency of health authority reports to the Department of State Health Services regarding cases of diagnosed HIV and AIDS infections. HB 3619 by Rep. Raymond and Zaffirini creates a bilingual coordinated health program in South Texas school districts.
Collection and analysis of data regarding early childhood education and bilingual education strategies will be improved by provisions within SB 1871 by Zaffirini and Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston. HB 1137 by Rep. Hochberg and Zaffirini will prevent incidents of school dropout by allowing older students to be admitted to public schools and receive high school diplomas.
SB 61 by Zaffirini and Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, authorizes Texas counties to adopt internal response plans for catastrophic events or declared disasters. The bill empowers counties and municipalities with the authority to adopt a comprehensive plan for the continuity of government functions during a declared disaster or other catastrophic event such as a bio-terror attack or dangerous outbreak.
SB 64 by Zaffirini and Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, requires general-purpose political committees (PACs) to disclose contributions of more than $5,000 during the last nine days of a campaign. It closes a loophole that allowed large contributions to general-purpose PACs to go unreported for months after a general or primary election.
“This certainly was a highly successful legislative session,” said Senator Zaffirini. “I am grateful for Lt. Governor Dewhurst’s leadership and for the opportunity to work with my colleagues in the Senate and House to enact bills that will benefit the families of SD 21 and our state.”
At the beginning of the legislative session Lt. Gov. Dewhurst re-appointed Senator Zaffirini Chair of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He also appointed her to a seventh term on the Appropriations Conference Committee that wrote the state’s $153 billion budget. She also served as a member of the Senate’s Education, Health and Human Services and Administration Committees.