Texas Senators give initial approval to several bills, House takes up sunset legislation

The two chambers of the Texas Legislature are moving at very different paces during the Special Session.

AUSTIN - Texas lawmakers are working at different paces in the House of Representatives and Senate.

Senate Committees held public hearings on both Saturday and Sunday so that the full Senate could vote on bills Monday.

Sixteen bills were placed on the Senate calendar and Sen. Jose Menendez (D-Dallas) said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wanted to pass 10-12 of them.

The first bill senators took up was Senate Bill 17, which extends the life of the task force studying maternal mortality and expands the scope of the study.

More women die during and after child birth in Texas than anywhere else in the U.S. or in any other developed country in the world. Several Democrats tried to add amendments to the bill that would allow new mothers to receive Medicaid for 12 months after giving birth instead of 60 days which is the current time limit. The task force has reported the majority of the women deaths are happening after the first 60 days. Half of all babies born in Texas are born on Medicaid. Those amendments failed.

Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) was able to add an amendment to give doctors substance abuse screening tools and prevention strategies to help women who are addicted to opioids. Miles noted cardiac arrest is the number one cause of death among the mothers, but drug overdoses are the second highest cause of maternal deaths.

The bill tentatively passed unanimously. The final vote will be taken Tuesday.

Senators then voted on Senate Bill 2, which would create a $150 million grant program for schools that receive ASATR funding. The program, that provides extra funding to schools with decreasing funding due to declining property values, expires Aug. 31, 2017. SB2 also establishes a $75 million tax credit scholarship program for special needs students.

"Of that $75 million, we're giving $60 million towards scholarship money for students who can attend a special needs school or a private school that can better address their situation," explained the bill's author, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).

Taylor said that $60 million will provide scholarships of up to $10,000 for 6,000 students. The other $15 million will be used to give scholarships for transportation or educational materials and tutoring for special needs students in public school. They will each get $500.

SB2 also provides $120 million for facilities. For the first time, the state would provide facilities funding for charter schools, giving them $60 million. Fast growing public schools would get the other $60 million for facilities.

SB2 is funded by giving tax deductions to insurance companies that donate to an educational service organization. Opponents argue the scholarships are a voucher that will take away money from public schools that are in need. They also note private schools are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools and question the use of giving tax dollars to private entities.

The bill initially passed on a 19-12 vote. Republican Sens. Robert Nichols (Jacksonville) and Charles Perry (Lubbock) voted against it. Democrat Eddie Lucio (Brownsville) voted in favor of it. The final vote will be Tuesday.

Senators also initially passed Senate Bill 10 and Senate Bill 73 which will require additional reporting on abortions.

SB10 requires more reporting of complications. Senators against the bill argued there are other procedures that have more complications than abortions with less reporting requirements, such as the removal of wisdom teeth or liposuction. They said the bill will make things more difficult for abortion clinics.

SB73 will require additional reporting on abortions when the woman receiving the abortion is a minor.

Both bills initially passed on a 22-9 vote with Democrat Judith Zaffirini (Laredo) joining Lucio voting in favor of it. The final vote will be Tuesday.

The only other bill to initially pass unanimously was Senate Bill 16. SB 16 will establish a 13-member committee chosen by the governor, lieutenant governor and Speaker of the House to study school finance. The committee would work on solutions during the interim and provide recommendations by the end of 2018 to guide lawmakers in the 2019 regular session.

The last bill the Senators are hearing for the night is Senate Bill 1, which would decrease the rollback rate from 8 percent to 4 percent. That means if cities or counties wanted to increase the property tax rate by more than 4 percent, they would have to call a rollback election.

The Senate is still debating the issue. Check back for details.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, members initially approved House Bill 1 which is the sunset legislation to keep a handful of state agencies, including the medical board, operating.

Some members in the House believe the Senate is rushing through bills, which was made even more evident by a question Austin Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D) posed to Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

"Mr. Speaker, is there any prize for the legislative body that passes bills the fastest," Rodriguez asked.

"We'll find out, won't we?," replied Straus.

The House is set to take the final vote on HB1 Tuesday.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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