Texas House tackles long agenda Friday

More bills moving forward today through the State House.

AUSTIN - With less than four weeks left in the 85th Texas Legislative Session, lawmakers have many long nights ahead of them as they tackle packed calendars.

That was the case Friday as the Texas House made it's way through a calendar with more than 160 bills and resolutions set to be voted on.

Among the bills voted on, the House tentatively passed HB4102  which aims to eliminate the state's massive rape kit back log by creating a grant fund. Under HB4102, Texans will be able to donate to the fund when they renew their vehicle registration.

The House has already passed a bill to let people donate to a similar fund when they renew their driver's licenses, but the bill's author, Representative Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) says people told her they want the opportunity to donate more often.

"We know that most women don't even report whenever they're sexually assaulted. So when they get to the point where they're reporting and going through an invasive four to six hour sexual assault exam and to just have that untested evidence just sitting there is not acceptable. And I believe our state should be fully funding this issue but it's not," said Neave. 

Representatives also tentatively passed two women's health care bills. House Bill 1036 will require certain insurance plans to cover 3-D and digital mammograms. House Bill 3304 adds ovarian cancer screenings to a Well Woman's Exam, which insurance companies also have to cover.

Another bill that tentatively passed will double the cost of traffic fines. House Bill 2068 by Representative Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) gets rid of the state's driver responsibility program. Under that program, in addition to getting tickets certain repeat offenders were fined and had to pay the fine for three years.

The program was an attempt to encourage people to drive better, but lawmakers say it has caused a lot of problems. Lawmakers said there is confusion about the fines which often leads to them not being paid. That results in driver's licenses being revoked. Others who can't afford the additional fees have been sent to jail.

But there's a catch. The money from the program helps fund trauma centers. HB2068 still gets money for those centers, but does it by increasing all fines for traffic violations.

And Texans could see a change at the ballot box if a bill passes the House. HB25 by Representative Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) would eliminate straight party ticket voting.  

Simmons pointed out Texas is one of only nine states in the U.S. that still has straight party voting. He believes voters should be educated on who they're electing and said that doesn't always happen with party votes.  

"Party affiliation does tell you a little bit about what their basic values and beliefs might be, but we know within our own party and I've seen it our on the flood in the D, democratic party as well, there's a lot of difference across the spectrum of democrats and republicans," said Simmons. "So I think this allows people to really get to know the candidate and requires the candidate to not get into office in a lazy manner." 

The House is expected to vote on Simmons' bill late Friday. 

It's also worth noting the House shot down HB2861 that would have let TxDOT enter six toll road deals, including putting toll lanes on I-35.

All of the bills that tentatively passed will need one more vote before heading to the Senate.

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