AUSTIN — As of Friday (March 8), the last day on which Texas legislators could file non-emergency legislation for the regular session that began January 8, Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed a rich variety of bills ranging from education, guardianship and health and human services to business, the environment and access to justice.
Reflecting her belief that higher education is a right, not a privilege, she authored Senate Bill (SB) 32, which would guarantee a tuition-free public higher education for Texas students whose annual household incomes are less than $100,000; SB 33, which would provide tuition for all eligible students at Texas community colleges; and SB 34, which would reform the TEXAS Grant program to maximize limited funding and enhance access to financial aid.
What’s more, by filing SB 38, Zaffirini continues years of advocacy to strengthen Texas’ hazing laws and improve institutional transparency. “Although hazing cannot be eradicated by legislative action,” she said, “the Legislature should clarify the law and create an environment in which dangerous activities can stop.”
To preclude Texans from losing their professional licenses for defaulting on their loans, she filed SB 37, which would prohibit this practice. “These students secured loans to earn the very licenses they are losing,” Zaffirini remarked. “Taking away their ability to earn a living and pay back their debts simply does not make sense.”
Building on her legislation that significantly improved Texas’ courts and judicial system, Senator Zaffirini filed bills that would ensure courts can continue to function efficiently in the aftermath of natural disasters (SB 40); simplify court fees (SB 346); and increase courts’ flexibility regarding fines and court costs for indigent defendants (SB 1637).
She also refiled legislation to establish a guardianship abuse, fraud and exploitation deterrence program (SB 31). “This bill continues to be a unanimous priority for the Texas Judicial Council, and Chief Justice Nathan Hecht highlighted it in his state of the judiciary speech,” Senator Zaffirini said. “Abuse, fraud and exploitation in our guardianship system must be prevented. We must help courts protect the most vulnerable persons in our society.”
Additional legislation filed by the senator would:
- guarantee universal pre-K for 4-year-olds and extend current eligibility criteria to 3-year-olds (SB 36);
- prohibit using a cellphone without a hands-free device while driving a vehicle (SB 43);
- define coerced debt, a lesser-known form of family violence, as a violation of state law, providing survivors access to rights conferred on victims of identity theft (SB 269);
- require public school students to complete and submit a FAFSA or Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) before high school graduation (SB 279);
- require respectful language in Texas statutes that refer to persons who are deaf (SB 281);
- ensure health insurance plans provide adequate mental health services coverage for minors (SB 314);
- clarify that a mental health expert collecting information for a magistrate regarding a defendant’s potential mental illness or intellectual disability must interview the defendant (SB 432);
- require the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife to ask applicants and re-applicants for hunting and fishing licenses whether they want to register as organ donors (SB 516);
- ensure tenants have adequate protections and solutions to resolve lease disputes after a natural disaster (SB 518);
- create specialized guardianship courts to assist counties in overseeing this type of case (SB 536);
- enhance the quality of our judiciary by increasing the years of experience required to be an appellate or trial judge (SB 561);
- expand Texas’ continuous Children’s Medicaid eligibility period from 6 to 12 months to prevent children from cycling on and off of insurance (SB 637);
- allow municipalities to regulate the use of single-use plastic bags (SB 648);
- reduce fraud and misuse of accessible parking placards (SB 870);
- gather data regarding the language acquisition of deaf students who are eight years old and younger (SB 895);
- align the language used in the Education Code with person-first respectful language regarding persons with disabilities (SB 896);
- create a transportation pilot program for pregnant mothers and their children to increase access to prenatal and postpartum medical appointments (SB 937);
- require the Texas Railroad Commission to hold a public hearing before granting a permit for oil or gas drilling within 1,500 feet of a school or child-care facility (SB 1156);
- protect Texans from unscrupulous roofing contractors by requiring them to register with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (SB 1168);
- provide counties the structure to establish local Offices of Public Guardians to care for those who cannot afford a private guardian and lack eligible family members who could be their guardians (SB 1426);
- reduce credit card skimming (the use of electronic devices to steal and record credit card information from unsuspecting consumers) (SB 1648);
- require judges to review normalcy activities to ensure foster youth have access to the same opportunities as other children (SB 1660);
- prevent homeowners in rapidly gentrifying, low-income neighborhoods from being forced to sell their houses because they cannot afford to pay their property taxes (SB 1791);
- help state government respond effectively to cyber attacks by allowing those attacks to qualify for a disaster declaration by the governor (SB 1952);
- direct the University Interscholastic League to create adaptive sports programs for children with special needs at middle, junior and high schools (SB 1954);
- enhance school security by requiring school safety officers to complete the Texas School Safety Center’s (TSSC) training program and authorizing TSSC to conduct on-site visits to improve school safety and security standards (SB 1967);
- allow retired teachers who cannot afford expensive private health insurance rates one year to reenter the Teachers Retirement health insurance program (SB 1968);
- improve access to justice for veterans by waiving the annual state bar membership fee for attorneys who provide pro bono services to service members and allowing the Texas Veterans Commission to use funds for the same purpose (SBs 2047 & 2048);
- develop a clemency application process for human trafficking and family violence victims whose abusers coerced them to commit related crimes(SB 2148);
- increase access to the state’s Early Childhood Intervention program, which identifies developmental delays in infants and young children (SB 2225); and
- clarify that a hospital nurse may perform a sexual assault forensic exam requested by a person under guardianship, even if his or her guardian is not available to provide consent (SB 2237).
“Every session, I prioritize the issues that will improve the lives of families in Senate District 21 and across our great state,” the senator said. “These include, as they always have, early childhood and higher education; and health and human services, with a focus on the very young, the very old, the very poor, persons with disabilities and veterans.”
The Texas Legislature Online website (https://capitol.texas.gov/) provides access to committee hearings and legislative sessions and information about bill progress.