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Economic development, care for military veterans and denying parole for convicted traffickers of children among bills pre-filed by Sen. Hinojosa

Featured, from left: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen during the Tuesday, December 4, 2018 public meeting of the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court was among federal, state, county and local leaders to pay homage to Hidalgo County Commissioner Precinct 4 Joseph Palacios for Palacios’ two four-year terms in that office. On January 1, 2019, Ellie Torres of Edinburg will succeed Palacios as the new county commissioner.

Photograph By EVANA VLECK

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Economic development, care for military veterans and denying parole for convicted traffickers of children among bills pre-filed by Sen. Hinojosa

By DESIRÉE CASTRO

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as of Wednesday, December 5, 2018, has introduced seven bills since pre-filing of legislature began on Tuesday, November 12, 2018, and is serving as a major Senate author for three additional measures, dealing with issues ranging from economic development, care for military veterans, and preventing certain discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender entity or expression.

The Texas Legislature begins its five-month regular session on Tuesday, January 8, 2018, but many state lawmakers begin introducing their proposals – know as pre-filing bills – ahead of time for many reasons, such as providing interested individuals and key constituency groups an advanced opportunity to express their support, opposition, or recommended changes to those measures.

The first round of Hinojosa’s legislation is the proverbial tip of the iceberg – during the regular session two years ago, the Senate District 20 lawmaker authored and sponsored more than 170 individual bills, and numerous key amendments to major legislation.

Immediately after pre-filing his legislation on Tuesday, November 12, 2018, Hinojosa listed the subject matter on the seven bills carrying his name as the primary Senate author:

Senate Bill 128, relating to the eligibility for release on parole of certain inmates convicted of the offense of continuous trafficking of persons.

Human trafficking is a serious issue affecting Texas, with Houston as a leading hub. Under current law, a person convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child and aggravated sexual assault in not eligible for release on parole. However, a person convicted of continuous trafficking of a child is eligible for parole.

SB 128 would protect children by preventing a person convicted of continuous trafficking of a child from being eligible for parole.

Probation and parole are both alternatives to incarceration. However, probation occurs prior to and often instead of jail or prison time, while parole is an early release from prison. In both probation and parole, the party is supervised and expected to follow certain rules and guidelines. These guidelines are called conditions of parole, or probation conditions, and in both circumstances, the party is expected to submit to warrantless searches, without probable cause.

(https://criminal-law.freeadvice.com/criminal-law/parole_probation/probation_parole_pardon.htm)

Senate Bill 129, relating to the eligibility from exemption from ad valorem taxation of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of certain first responders.

Current law entitles the surviving spouse of a first responder who was killed or fatally injured in the line of duty to a property tax exemption. The exemption is available to all surviving spouses, regardless of the date of the first responder’s death, so long as he or she was married to the first responder at the time and has not remarried.

SB 129 would expand the definition of a first responder to include Special Investigators, a Customs and Border Protection Officer or Border Patrol Agent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or an Immigration Officer or Deportation Officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

With property taxes on the rise in Texas, SB 129 would ensure that families of fallen first responders are not forced to sell their homes due to this sudden property tax increase border, especially after the sacrifices made by these families.

Senate Bill 130, relating to the use of hypnotically induced testimony in a criminal trial.

Currently, most states do not allow hypnosis-influenced testimony to be admitted into evidence. However, Texas and some other state allow court testimony by witnesses who were hypnotized to enhance their memories. SB 130 would amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to end the use of hypnotically induced testimony in a criminal trial. The use of hypnosis would still be allowed as an investigative tool, however.

Senate Bill 131, relating to the creation of an open burn registry for certain service members and veterans.

The goal of SB 131 is to create a Texas Open Burn Pit Registry to help service members, veterans, medical providers, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determine the effects of exposure to open air burn pits and prevent medical misdiagnoses that often lead to denials of benefits that lead to financial hardship.

Much like Agent Orange and Gulf War registries, the Texas Open Burn Pit Registry would serve asa critical tool in examining this new type of toxic exposure by collecting valuable data regarding the effects of exposure to chemicals while serving in foreign lands. Further, this registry would serve as a resource to veterans and their families by providing information regarding available programs and an opportunity for outreach.

Burn pits were a common way to get rid of waste at military sites. Burn pits burned many things including: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics, rubber, wood, and discarded food. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says that toxins in burn pit smoke can affect you all over including the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs.

(https://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-benefits/what-burn-pit-registry.html)

Senate Bill 132, relating to the operation of the Texas Leverage Fund program administered by the Texas Economic Development Bank.

The Texas Leverage Fund, administered by the Office of the Governor’s Economic Development and Tourism Office, issues loans to Economic Development Corporations to finance eligible projects. The program is set to expire if not continued in statute.

SB 132 would continue the Texas Leverage Fund and establish it as a trust fund held outside the state treasury by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, a state agency which would act as a trustee.

The fund would consist of proceeds from issuance of bonds, loan repayments, and origination fees, investment earnings, and any other money received by the Texas Economic Development Bank.

The Texas Economic Development Bank (the Bank) operates within the Office of the Governor’s (OOG) Economic Development and Tourism Division (EDT). It was created to oversee state economic development programs and to develop a comprehensive and coordinated approach to assist businesses and local communities. The Bank operates an economic development portfolio comprised of financial and business development programs to assist communities and businesses in developing and achieving economic success, as directed by Government Code Section. 489.108.

Senate Bill 133, relating to designating May 18 as School Shooting Victims Remembrance Day.

The legislation would designed May 18 as the date to honor the memory or teachers and students who have lost their lives in school shootings. On May 18, 2018, a school shooting occurred a Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Eight students were fatally shot and 13 others were wounded.

SB 133 helps remember and honor the people who have lost their lives in school shootings.

Senate Bill 134, relating to the participation of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine in the Joint Admission Medical Program.

SB 134 adds UTRGV’s School of Medicine to the Joint Admissions Medical Program to help with recruiting and retaining highly-qualified, economically-disadvantaged Texas resident students pursuing a medical education. Texas students admitted to their program are guaranteed admission to one of the state’s medical schools, financial and academic support to help them get there, and access to resources that allow them to excel.

The Joint Admission Medical Program (JAMP) is a special program created by the Texas Legislature to support and encourage highly qualified, economically disadvantaged Texas resident students pursuing a medical education.

Funded through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, JAMP is a unique partnership between all nine Texas medical schools and sixty-seven public and private four-year undergraduate institutions.

Since 2003, JAMP has been helping Texas students achieve their dreams with guaranteed admission to one of the state’s nine medical schools, financial, and academic support to help them get there, and access to resources that allow them to excel.

(http://texasjamp.org/AboutJAMP/homepage.htm)

Senate Bill 63, relating to the creation of Texas Mental Health Consortium.
 
Primary Author: Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. 
Authors include Hinojosa, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
 
SB 63 establishes the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium to foster collaboration among health-related institutions with the goal of improving early identification and access to mental health services, addressing psychiatry workforce issues, promoting and coordinating mental health research, and strengthening judicial training on juvenile mental health. 
 
The consortium will coordinate programs located in health-related institutions across the state such as the Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN) to assist pediatricians in meeting the behavioral health needs of children and youth and the Texas Child Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program to connect at-risk students with behavioral health assessments and intervention through telemedicine. 
 
“This bill will help physicians identify children and adolescents who are struggling with mental health challenges and get them into treatment. More importantly, it will help prevent young people from becoming a danger to themselves and others,” Nelson said. “By leveraging the expertise of our institutions of higher education, we can expand access to care, grow our mental health workforce and support mental health research.”
 
Senate Bill 151, relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.
 
Primary Author: Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.
Authors: Hinojosa, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.
 
SB 151, which is mostly identical to SB 165 authored by Rodríguez for action by the 85th Texas Legislature in 2017, is  a comprehensive non-discrimination bill, according to the El Paso state lawmaker, who also is a graduate of then-Pan American University in Edinburg.
 
SB 151 would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of housing, public accommodation, employment, and state contracting.
 
“Gay and trans folks have the same values as anyone: to be secure in their livelihoods and to live a life of purpose, free from discrimination. An inclusive Texas is critical to recruiting top talent, attracting business, and maintaining a strong tourism industry,” Rodríguez said in late 2016 of his effort. “This session, we must also be mindful of lawmakers’ attempts to authorize discrimination, or even repeal the handful of local non-discrimination ordinances and policies that we do have in Texas. We simply can’t afford discriminatory legislation of the kind that only brought ridicule to other states.”
 
Senate Joint Resolution 9, proposing a constitutional amendment to repeal the constitutional provision providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
 
A Joint Resolution is a type of legislative measure that requires adoption by both chambers of the legislature but does not require action by the governor. A joint resolution is used to propose amendments to the Texas Constitution, ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution, or request a constitutional convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Before becoming effective, the provisions of joint resolutions proposing amendments to the Texas Constitution must be approved by the voters of Texas.
 
Throughout his legislative career – which spans several decades –  Hinojosa has been a strong advocate for abolishing state laws that he feels are discriminatory against people. 
 
Some of Hinojosa’s perspectives on protecting same-sex couples follow:
 
“Views are changing as people begin to accept and understand that same-sex couples are part of our communities, culture and country. They live in our communities, work in our communities, attend church in our communities and volunteer for our military where they fight for our freedom and liberty. They are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, colleagues and friends.
 
“Same-sex couples should be allowed the freedom to marry one another and be treated with dignity and respect. As a society, we should not tolerate acts of discrimination, hate or violence for any reason. We are all equals. I remain committed to the cause of equality. All men and women should have the freedom to choose their partner.”
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David A. Díaz contributed to this article. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature.
 

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