Featured: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose Senate District 21 includes Starr County, on Thursday, March 17, 2016, in the Shirley Bird Perry Ballroom at the University of Texas at Austin.
Photograph Courtesy UT MOODY COLLEGE OF COMMUNICATIONS
Sen. Zaffirini announces 78 new laws that she shaped are effective as of September 1, including bills dealing with hazing, guardianship reform
By SARAH POLLOCK
Almost ten percent of the 820 new laws that became effective on Sunday, September 1, 2019, were authored or sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D- Laredo, whose district includes Starr County.
They include 23 Senate Bills (SB) that she authored and 55 House Bills (HB) that she sponsored during the 2019 legislative session.
An author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). The senate allows multiple primary authors for each bill or resolution. The house of representatives allows only one primary author, the house member whose signature appears on the original measure and on the copies filed with the chief clerk. Both chambers also have coauthors, and the house of representatives has joint authors.
A sponsor is he legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.
Her SB 38, for example, will significantly reform Texas’ anti-hazing law in the aftermath of three fatal hazing-related incidents in the last two years. The new law defines coercion to consume a drug or alcohol as hazing, strengthens institutional reporting requirements and holds colleges and universities accountable for transparency on campus. It also facilitates the prosecution of perpetrators of hazing, ensuring persons face meaningful consequences for this behavior.
“I am delighted that after 14 years of trying to pass this critical legislation, we finally have taken a significant step toward eliminating hazing in our state,” Zaffirini said. “I will monitor the implementation of SB 38 and continue to support our colleges and universities in their efforts to end this horrific practice.”
She passed 127 bills during the 2019 legislative session, breaking her personal record for the third consecutive session and passing more bills than any other legislator. Since 1987 she has sponsored and passed 1,160 bills and 36 substantive resolutions — more than any other legislator in Texas history.
“I believe this proves that lawmakers are actively working together to improve the lives of Texans regardless of their political affiliation. Very few bills are passed strictly along party lines, and I am grateful for the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), legislative colleagues and staff for making this session as cooperative and successful as it was,” Zaffirini said.
In addition to her landmark hazing legislation, new laws also taking effect as of September 1, 2019 will increase protections for vulnerable populations.
Zaffirini’s SB 31, for example, created the Guardianship Abuse, Fraud, and Deterrence program, which will help prevent the exploitation of persons who need a legal guardian because they cannot care for themselves. It enables the Office of Court Administration to hire auditors and establish an electronic database to review all guardianship cases to ensure compliance with state laws.
“We developed this legislation after hearing testimony about terrible physical and financial abuse that went undiscovered for years,” the senator said. “I hope with this additional support, oversight of guardianship cases will be more effective, precluding further harm.”
She continued her efforts to promote access to justice by passing SB 41, which encourages appointing pro bono attorneys for low-income Texans. What’s more, legislation the senator sponsored will increase the damages that may be awarded to elderly victims of Internet-based fraud (HB 883).
As a member of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, Zaffirini protected her constituents’
economic interests by passing HB 2697, which addresses “coerced debt” by providing victims of family violence and financial abuse tools to repair their credit and more easily leave abusive situations; and a package of bills (HB 2624, HB 2625 and HB 2945) to address credit card skimming, a constant issue for Texas consumers and businesses alike.
The senator also improved health and human services for Texans by creating a pilot program to allow children to accompany their mothers who rely on Medicaid transportation services (HB 25); clarifying that women may express breast milk at public sites where they can breastfeed, facilitating their earlier return to work after giving birth (HB 541); and ensuring that defendants who may have a mental illness or intellectual disability are interviewed timely by an expert (HB 601).
Additional legislation passed by Zaffirini this session authorizes legal aid services for veterans and establishes the Texas Veterans County Service Officer Task Force to better leverage local resources (SB 2104); and encourages proper recycling and reduces contamination, as well as addressing market demand for recyclables (SB 649).
“Even after 32 years of serving in the Senate, my constituents continue to amaze me,” remarked Zaffirini. “Some of my most successful legislation began with suggestions made by constituents. They can count on me to listen to their suggestions and develop additional legislation for the next legislative session that convenes in January 2021.”
Zaffirini is Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development and a member of the Administration, State Affairs and Business and Commerce committees. She also serves on the Texas Judicial Council and the Texas Access to Justice Commission.
Her work ethic is reflected in her 100 percent perfect attendance in the Texas Senate since 1987, except for breaking quorum deliberately to prevent an untimely re-redistricting that the U.S. Supreme Court (2006) ruled violated the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchised voters in her Senate District 21.
Continuing her career-long 100 percent voting record, she has cast more than 64,000 consecutive votes.
E-CIGARETTES ARE HARMFUL
By Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa
Since 2015, I have been sounding the alarm about electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and the harmful effects this product can have on consumers.
(E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that work by heating a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales and exhales. The e-cigarette liquid typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin, flavorings, and other chemicals. Nicotine is the addictive drug found in regular cigarettes and other tobacco products. – https://smokefree.gov/quit-smoking/ecigs-menthol-dip/ecigs)
That year, I authored and passed Senate Bill 97, which prohibited any person under 18 years of age from buying, possessing, accepting or consuming an e-cigarette. My intent for passing SB 97, was to protect our youth from access to vaping products that we knew had nicotine, a highly addictive chemical that poses health risks to youth. It was also to protect users from the unknown harmful effects of a new and experimental product.
(Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol produced by a vaping product, such as an electronic cigarette. Vaping doesn’t require burning like cigarette smoking. The device heats a liquid into a vapor, which then turns into aerosol. This vapor is often flavored and can contain nicotine. Vaping devices are usually battery-powered. – https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-truths-you-need-to-know-about-vaping)
On Friday, August 23, 2019, Robert R. Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported the first death related to severe lung disease in those who use an e-cigarette or vaping devices. In his statement, Dr. Redfield stated, “Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms – including flavoring, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents.” This unfortunate death is proof that e-cigarettes are not a safe alternative to regular cigarettes.
This session, with the passage of Senate Bill 21 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which I co-authored, the Texas Legislature went a step further by increasing the age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in Texas from 18 to 21.
A coauthor is a legislator authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. Both the Senate and the house of representatives allow an unlimited number of coauthors on a bill or resolution. A coauthor must be a member of the chamber in which the bill was filed.
This new law is effective as of Sunday, September 1, 2019.
According to studies, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. By increasing the age to 21, we hope to have a positive impact on public health by preventing young people from ever beginning to smoke.
While some improvements have been made, we must do more, such as protecting our youth from the enticing flavors of vaping products. Research has shown that flavors play a huge role in the use of e-cigarettes by youth and that the flavors themselves may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the 2018 Texas Youth Tobacco Survey published by the Texas Department of State Health Services, 13% of youth used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 18.9% of high school students and 6.0% of middle school students.
With the first death related to vaping, more than 200 reported cases of severe breathing illnesses, and Director Redfield’s warning that “e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products,” we, as a society, need to make a stronger effort to educate our community about the dangers of e-cigarettes. I look forward to working with the Texas Department of State Health Services to provide additional resources and support to our school districts, healthcare organizations, youth organizations, and law enforcement in their efforts to reduce the use of e-cigarettes.
Paul Townsend and David A. Díaz contributed to this article. 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 (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).