AUSTIN — Keeping with tradition, Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was first in line to pre-file legislation Monday (Nov. 9) for the 87th Texas Legislative Session that convenes Jan. 12.
Despite her and her staff working remotely since March due to the pandemic, Senator Zaffirini pre-filed 34 bills, two more than she pre-filed the last session.
The legislation reflects her longstanding priorities of education, especially early childhood and higher education; health and human services; and judicial reform.
“Because of the pandemic, my staff and I are working harder than ever,” she said. “COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities that must be rectified. I pre-filed this legislation because I understand the urgency with which we must address these issues.”
Senator Zaffirini’s first priority is responding to the economic and health effects of COVID-19. Her Senate Bill (SB) 32, for example, would provide up to $5,000 of student loan debt relief to frontline workers for their exemplary service. “Our frontline workers have been heroes throughout the pandemic, and we owe them an enormous debt,” she said. “SB 32 is the very least we can do to acknowledge their efforts and sacrifice.”
Based on the success of temporary regulatory changes made due to COVID-19, the senator also filed SB 40, which would authorize health professionals regulated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, including speech-language pathologists and dyslexia therapists, to practice via telehealth. More pandemic- related legislation is forthcoming.
Senator Zaffirini has advocated for accessible, affordable health care throughout her career and believes it is an even more urgent need today.
Accordingly, she filed Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 11, which would extend Medicaid services to persons at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level; and SB 39, which would prevent children from losing Medicaid coverage due to paperwork issues.
Additionally, her SB 50 would increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid.
The senator’s strong support for affordable higher education is evidenced by her filing of SBs 33 and 34, which would functionally make public higher education and community colleges, respectively, tuition-free for qualifying Texans. “Earning a college degree has never been more important, but neither has it ever been more expensive,” Senator Zaffirini said. “I believe higher education is a right, not a privilege, and SBs 33 and 34 reflect that belief.”
On a related note, SB 35 would reinstate the B-on-Time Student Loan Program, which offered zero-interest student loans that could be forgiven for students who earned their degrees timely and with a 3.0 or better GPA. SB 36 would clarify the anti-hazing bill she passed the last session to incentivize reporting, and SB 54 would direct the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct a study of best practices for serving students with autism spectrum disorder.
Also a champion of early childhood education, Zaffirini filed SB 37, which would establish universal pre-kindergarten by extending current eligibility to three-year-olds.
SB 51 would require health insurers to cover the serious emotional disturbance of a child under existing mental health parity laws, and SB 52 would require judges to review the normalcy activities provided to foster youth.
The senator also proposed judicial and criminal justice reforms via SB 48, which relates to community supervision of persons accused of animal abuse; SB 49, which would improve access to the mental health records of incarcerated persons; and SB 56, which would allow current and former federal prosecutors and public defenders to have their personal information redacted from public records.
Senator Zaffirini also pre-filed the following bills:
- SJR 12, which would allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the time of a general election to vote in its corresponding primary election;
- SJR 13, which would abolish daylight savings time;
- SB 43, which would protect consumers against predatory wrap lending practices;
- SB 45, which would protect persons employed at businesses with 15 or fewer employees against sexual harassment;
- SB 53, which would prohibit medical professionals from performing pelvic exams without informed consent;
- SB 57, which would extend the period during which an employee may file a claim for unpaid wages with the Texas Workforce Commission;
- SB 58, which would improve local governments’ ability to procure cloud computing services;
- SB 59, which would allow the Comptroller of Public Accounts to advertise its state purchasing program;
- SB 60, which would exempt gun safety equipment from sales taxes;
- SB 61, which would allow interagency workgroups to study unfunded mandates from the state to local governments; and
- SB 62, which would permit the Texas Ethics Commission to conduct seminars for candidates about campaign finance
“I’m delighted to advance an ambitious agenda commensurate with Texas’ enormous potential,” the senator said. “I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address pressing issues and build a safer, more prosperous and more equitable Texas.”