Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a former U.S. Marines combat squad leader in Vietnam, walks by a Texas honor guard which was standing at attention at the Texas Capitol as the South Texan senator prepared to participate in the Tuesday, January 20 Texas Inauguration, held on the South Steps of the historic building, to witness the Oath of Office Ceremony for Gov. Gregg Abbott.
Photograph By SENATE MEDIA
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who as of Wednesday, February 11, had filed 50 bills and resolutions, is promoting his legislative agenda from a position of strength, as he is the only state senator from south of San Antonio who is on the powerful Senate Finance Committee – of which he is Vice-Chair – allowing him to heavily influences the final state budget for Texas. “I am honored to serve as Vice-Chair of Senate Finance and that Lt. Governor (Dan) Patrick (R-Houston) has entrusted me with these important responsibilities. Through these appointments I am able to put South Texas at the forefront of the critical discussions that will be taking place during this session,” said Hinojosa. “There is no question that this session will be challenging as our communities face critical issues, our lawmakers face significant hurdles, and solutions are not always transparent.” Among some of his issues beginning to generate attention are Senate Bill 97, which would prohibit the sale, distribution, possession, and use of electronic cigarettes to minors; a soon-to-be released proposal to bring a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper training facility to the Valley; and Senate Bill 552, which would require state agencies to prepare an economic impact statement and regulatory flexibility analysis if a state agency is made aware that a proposed rule may have an adverse economic effect on small businesses.” Hinojosa represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part), and serves as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. The Senate District 20 lawmaker’s constituents include Edinburg and most of McAllen, stretching north and northeast to Corpus Christi.
Banning E-cigarette sales to minors, bringing DPS training facility to the Valley, and protecting small businesses promoted by Sen. Hinojosa
By JENNIFER SÁENZ
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday, February 11, heard testimony on Senate Bill 97, by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, that relates to the sale, distribution, possession, and use of electronic cigarettes.
The measure, if passed into law, would prohibit the sale of these increasingly popular products to anyone under 18 years of age.
SB 97 would make it a Class C misdemeanor for a violation, punishable by a fine of not more than $500, and up to 180 days of deferred disposition, according to the fiscal note prepared by the Legislative Budget Board.
Deferred disposition is a form of probation, which allows for dismissal of a charge if certain criteria(s) are met. The probationary period is 180 days and begins when the fees are paid. Costs associated with enforcement and prosecution could likely be absorbed within existing resources. Revenue gain from fines imposed and collected is not anticipated to have a significant fiscal impact.
Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or vape pens, are battery-powered vaporizers that turn nicotine, flavor, and other chemicals into an aerosol that is then inhaled by the user. The liquid that is vaporized in e-cigarettes comes in hundreds of flavors. Some of these flavors, such as bubble gum and milk chocolate, are likely attractive to younger persons.
Since these products are relatively new to the market, a comprehensive assessment of their health impact, especially their long-term consequences, has yet to be developed.
However, their effects on youth could still be substantial. Adolescence is a critical juncture in the development of nicotine addiction, and nicotine in any form—smokeless, combustible, or electronic—can have adverse effects on adolescent brain development.
“Regulation at the state level is necessary. Many cities in Texas as well as 41 other states have already banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors because of the potentially harmful health consequences and the addictive nature of the nicotine in e-cigarettes,” said Hinojosa. “SB 97 will prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and regulate their possession, distribution, and use.”
As is the usual practice, no other action was set on the bill, which allows lawmakers on the committee, as well as supporters and opponents of the legislation, to try to negotiate any differences.
“Teens now use e-cigarettes more than any other tobacco product, including conventional tobacco cigarettes and other tobacco product,” Hinojosa noted. “It is imperative that we take the steps to protect our teens from these federally unregulated, potentially addicting products.”
In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that e-cigarette use doubled among students at high schools and middle schools across the country, growing from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012.
Though some research suggests that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, they are not risk free because they contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug. The nicotine in e-cigarettes poses a substantial risk to youth in particular: adolescence is a critical point in the development of nicotine addiction, and nicotine in any form – smokeless, combustible, or electronic – can have adverse effects on adolescent brain development.
Electronic cigarettes are currently unregulated at the federal level and in the state of Texas. These products’ lack of regulation, together with their influence on adolescents and the concern they present to the public health community, reinforce the need for legislation at the state level, Hinojosa said.
Passage of SB 97 would allow Texas to join 41 other states that already prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes or vaping/alternative tobacco products to minors.
In 2014, more teens used e-cigarettes than traditional tobacco cigarettes or any other tobacco product, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that e-cigarette use doubled among students at high schools and middle schools across the country, growing from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012.
E-cigarettes are currently unregulated at the federal level and in Texas, and the United States Food and Drug Administration has yet to finalize regulations that would ban the sale of these devices to anyone under 18 years of age. As of October 2014, 41 states and one territory prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes or vaping/alternative tobacco products to minors.
These products’ lack of regulation, together with their influence on adolescents and the concern they present to the public health community, reinforce the need for legislation at the state level.
SB 97 defines e-cigarettes and adds e-cigarettes to existing cigarette and tobacco product provisions in Chapter 161, Health and Safety Code, as well as Section 48.01 of the Penal Code. Key provisions of SB 97. As considered by the Senate committee, SB 94 would:
• Prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to any person younger than 18 years of age;
• Prohibit anyone younger than 18 years of age from possessing, purchasing, consuming, or accepting an e-cigarette;
• Prohibit e-cigarette sales in a manner that permits a customer direct access to the e-cigarette as well as the installation of a vending machine containing e-cigarettes;
• Allow local regulation of the sale, distribution, or use of e-cigarettes if the regulation, ordinance, or requirement is compatible with and equal to or more stringent than the requirements set forth in SB 97;
• Create an offense for smoking an e-cigarette in a public primary or secondary school, elevator, enclosed theater, library, museum, hospital, transit system bus, intrastate bus, plane or train (except in designated areas); and
• Amends current law relating to regulation of the sale, distribution, possession, use, and advertising of vapor products, authorizes a fee, and creates offenses.
HINOJOSA TO PROPOSE DPS TRAINING FACILITY FOR VALLEY
On Tuesday, February 10, Hinojosa announces that he will release a Border Security Proposal in the coming days to work in collaboration with current budget recommendations.
Hinojosa’s proposal does not include extending the deployment of the National Guard Troops along the state’s border. The deployment of 1,000 troops, which cost tens of millions of dollars, was set to end in March. To fund the Guard through May will cost an additional $12 million and does not adequately address the needs of our communities in the border area.
“Utilizing the National Guard creates an image of militarization of the border and sends the wrong message,” he said. “We can make better use of our money on border security by investing funds in a Texas Department of Training (DPS) training facility in the Valley so that troopers will become acclimated and familiar with our Valley culture and communities.”
In December 2014, the Legislative Budget Board approved an additional $86.1 million to continue the state’s border security efforts through August 2015. The funding was to be used to wind down the National Guard presence along the Rio Grande Valley border, a presence Hinojosa has opposed from the very beginning.
Currently, the proposed Senate Budget adds $815 million for border security and a supplemental bill would be needed to fund the Guard deployment through the end of the August which would allow the legislature to make the decision to keep the Guard on the border longer.
“We can also invest in providing additional funding to our local communities who need more resources to hire more police officers and deputies as well as additional funding to hire more Texas Rangers, Game Wardens, and DPS troopers,” he said.
As part of their state legislative agenda, the Edinburg City Council and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the city council, are proposing the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg as a prime location for the proposed DPS training center.
The Senate District 20 lawmaker, whose constituents include Edinburg and most of McAllen, stretching north and northeast to Corpus Christi, promised to “soon release detailed border security proposal and work with my Senate colleagues to craft a solution. It is my priority to ensure the safety and security of our families living along the border and to support cost effective and carefully crafted border security measures.”
SHIELDING SMALL BUSINESS FROM BURDENSOME REGULATION
On Wednesday, February 11, Hinojosa Senate Bill 522 relating to the procedure for adoption by a state agency of rules that may have an adverse economic effect on small businesses and micro-businesses.
SB 522 reflects a legislative recommendation made by the Small Business Advisory Task Force which was created last session to identify barriers that hurt Texas job creators, review difficulties encountered by small businesses with regard to the regulatory system and make recommendations to the legislature to improve small business creation in Texas.
“Small businesses are the backbone of the Texas economy. Our recipe of low taxes, tort reform, and predictable regulation has made Texas the place to do business,” Hinojosa said. “However, state regulatory bodies still adopt burdensome rules without understanding the economic impact on start-up businesses and current small businesses. Sometimes these rules create barriers to entry and make it harder for start-up businesses to be successful.”
SB 522 would require state agencies to prepare an economic impact statement and regulatory flexibility analysis if a state agency is made aware that a proposed rule may have an adverse economic effect on small businesses.”
“I filed SB 522 to give a voice to small business owners who are negatively impacted by agency rules,” Hinojosa explained. “This bill will give agencies a better understanding of the economic impact and regulatory flexibility its rules have on Texas businesses.”
HINOJOSA NAMED VICE-CHAIR OF POWERFUL FINANCE COMMITTEE
On Friday, January 23, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, R-Houston, announced Senate committee assignments for the 84th Legislative Session.
Hinojosa will serve as Vice-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and will continue his appointments to the Senate Committees on Criminal Justice, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs. He will also continue to serve on the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and Sunset Advisory Commission.
Hinojosa’s continued appointment as Vice Chair of Senate Finance secures his influential leadership position and his significant impact on the state budget-writing process that will benefit our South Texas region.
“I am honored to serve as Vice-Chair of Senate Finance and that Lt. Governor Patrick has entrusted me with these important responsibilities. Through these appointments I am able to put South Texas at the forefront of the critical discussions that will be taking place during this session. There is no question that this session will be challenging as our communities face critical issues, our lawmakers face significant hurdles, and solutions are not always transparent.”
Hinojosa is the only senator on the finance panel who represents legislative districts from south of San Antonio.
“Now more than ever we need to work together. We need to fund education and essential healthcare services, invest in our youth and workforce through education and skills training, create more jobs, and invest in the infrastructure we need for future success,” he said. “I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to bring forth viable solutions that will benefit our Texas families.”
Hinojosa represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part), and serves as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature.