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Featured: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Wednesday, April 25, 2019, reads a resolution in honor of the City of San Marcos from the floor of the Texas Senate chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin. On Saturday, November 9, 2019, she filed her candidacy for reelection to represent Texas’ 21st Senatorial District, which includes all of Starr County. Her priorities include early and higher education and health and human services, especially for the very young, the very old, the very poor, persons with disabilities and veterans. 

Photograph Courtesy CITY OF SAN MARCOS

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Sen. Zaffirini, whose Senate District 21 includes Starr County, files for reelection in 2020, to focus on higher education, health, and human services

By SARAH POLLOCK

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Saturday, November 9, 2019, filed her candidacy for reelection in 2020 to continue representing the state’s 21st Senatorial District, which includes all of Starr County, and all or parts of 17 other counties, specifically Atascosa, Bee, Caldwell, Bexar, Duval, Guadalupe, Hays, Jim Hogg, Karnes, La Salle, Live Oak, McMullen, San Patricio, Starr, Travis, Webb, Wilson and Zapata. 

The first Hispanic woman elected to the Texas Senate, Zaffirini is the second-highest-ranking senator and the highest-ranking senator for Central Texas, Bexar County and the Border Region.

“Serving in the Texas Senate continues to afford countless opportunities to make a difference for the families in my district,” Zaffirini said. “I continue to be humbled by the trust they place in me as their senator, and I always work persistently on their behalf.”

Her work ethic is reflected in her 100 percent voting record, having cast more than 64,000 consecutive votes as of 2019, and her 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 SD 21. 

Showing her bipartisan effectiveness, in the 2019 Republican-dominated Texas Legislature she passed 127 bills, breaking her personal record of 108 and being the highest bill passer for the third consecutive legislative session. 

In addition, she has passed more bills than any other legislator in a single session, according to digital records dating back 50 years, and has sponsored and passed 1,160 bills and 36 substantive resolutions— more bills than any other legislator in the history of the State of Texas.

“My priorities continue to be education in general, with a focus on early childhood and higher education, and health and human services in general, with a focus on the very young, the very old, the very poor and persons with disabilities,” Zaffirini said.

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. 

Recently appointed Vice-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety, she also serves on the Texas Judicial Council and the Texas Access to Justice Commission.

The senator holds B.S., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, each with a 3.97 GPA, and has received more than 1,000 awards for her professional and public service work. 

She is the namesake of Texas A&M International University’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Student Success Center, United ISD’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Elementary School, Laredo Community College’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Library, Lake Casa Blanca International State Park’s Senator Judith Zaffirini Road and Edinburg’s Judith Zaffirini Residential Treatment Center that focuses on fighting drug addiction.

She and her husband, Carlos Zaffirini, a Laredo attorney, have been married 54 years. Their son, Carlos Jr. and his wife, Audrey, are parents of two-year-old Asher Maxwell and of George William, who was born on July 15, 2019.

SEN. ZAFFIRINI NAMED VICE CHAIR OF SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON MASS VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND COMMUNITY SAFETY BY LT. GOVERNOR PATRICK

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, was appointed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to serve as Vice-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety. Created in the aftermath of recent mass shootings in El Paso and the Midland-Odessa area, the committee is studying issues related to mass violence, assess the effectiveness of existing laws and recommending new legislative solutions.

The Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety will coordinate with the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety. The House committee does not include any legislators from the Rio Grande Valley.

Four public meetings of the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety already have been held, with a fifth public session set for  Wednesday, December 4, 2019, at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

“I am grateful to Lt. Governor Patrick for this appointment, especially because the horror of mass shootings touches all Texans, including my own constituents in Sutherland Springs who suffered a horrendous attack on Nov. 5, 2017,” Zaffirini said. “Protecting the health, welfare, and safety of Texas families is the sacred duty of our state government, and we took significant steps to enhance school safety during the most recent legislative session. Our work must carry on, however, as we strive toward a consensus regarding solutions.”

Chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the committee was charged with conducting hearings in communities affected by mass shootings to meet with victims and their families; assessing collaborative opportunities for detecting, preventing and responding to mass violence; and examining the effectiveness of both current laws and potential strategies to ensure persons who would not pass a federal background check are prevented from accessing firearms.

The issues being examined by the Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety are known as “interim charges”.

The time period between Texas legislative sessions is referred to as “the interim.” 

During this period, Senate and House of Representatives committees are assigned certain topics to study, referred to as interim charges. The committees develop comprehensive reports with recommendations to be considered during the following legislative session. Legislators submit suggestions for interim studies to the legislative leadership. From those recommendations, the final charges are selected. The lieutenant governor assigns charges to the senate committees and the speaker of the house assigns interim charges to the house committees.

(https://hogg.utexas.edu/legislative-interim-charges)

Patrick added that Huffman is “uniquely qualified to head the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety.” Huffman began her career as a prosecutor in Harris County where she served as Chief Felony Prosecutor, Special Crimes Gang Prosecutor, and Legal Counsel to the Organized Crime Narcotics Task Force. She served as lead prosecutor in over 100 jury trials, including murders and sexual assaults of adults and children. She was twice elected State District Judge of the 183rd Criminal District Court in Harris County.

Having been at The University of Texas in 1966 when a sniper killed 16 persons and injured another 31, Zaffirini said she understands “the immeasurable pain everyone impacted by these shootings feels.”

She participated in Gov. Greg Abbott’s roundtable discussions in 2018, along with several of her constituents from Wilson County and others from affected communities. The group examined ways to prevent these horrific events in Texas. In the face of this ongoing crisis, she hopes the Texas Legislature will continue to rise to the occasion and implement concrete solutions.

“Persons with a wide variety of viewpoints must come together and collaborate to find solutions and action steps that will save lives,” Zaffirini said. “We must never let tragedies like those in Sutherland Springs, El Paso, and Midland-Odessa become normal.”

 The members appointed by Patrick to the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety represent wide geography and several have suffered mass shootings in their district.

In addition to Huffman and Zaffirini, the members of the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention are: 

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels;
Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills;
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound;
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock;
Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso;
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; and
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

Public hearings already  held by the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence and Community Safety have taken place on (enter day), September 26, 2019 at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Thursday, October 17, 2019 at Odessa College in Odessa, Monday, October 21, 2019 at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

A meeting of the Senate committee is also scheduled to take place on Wednesday, December 4, 2019, at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

Lt. Gov. Patrick gave the select committee the following interim charges:

• Learn firsthand, the personal, family, and community impact of mass shootings in Texas by hearing from victims of mass violence in Dallas, Santa Fe, Sutherland Springs, El Paso, and Midland/Odessa. Conduct hearings in Austin, El Paso, and the Midland/Odessa area to meet with victims and their families in those communities.

• Examine ways to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who would not pass a federal background check, while protecting the Second Amendment and Texans’ right to bear arms. Examine whether stranger-to-stranger gun sales in Texas should be subject to background checks. 

• Consider the role digital media, dark web networks, and overall cultural issues play in the promotion of mass violence and how these contribute to the radicalization of individuals and incitement of racism, white supremacy, and domestic terrorism. Research the link between violent video games and recent mass shootings in Texas and examine the impact of the overall fraying culture on mass shootings, including increased violence, tolerance for violence, and extremist views in our society

• Assess how state and local law enforcement agencies, fusion centers, mental health providers, digital platforms and social media companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., can better collaborate to detect, prevent, and respond to mass violence and terroristic activity. Examine what resources, staffing, and protocols are necessary to enhance these partnerships and whether state funding is needed to assist local authorities in this endeavor.

• Determine the effectiveness of current laws that are used for timely reporting of criminal history information, emergency protective orders, and other threat indicators to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who would not pass a federal firearms background check. Review workforce and resource challenges impeding current laws and identify accountability measures needed for law enforcement, courts, firearm distributors, and private sellers who fail to follow reporting requirements under current law.

• Study whether the state’s interest in public safety and its ability to deter violence and dangerous conduct is enhanced by prohibiting individuals from wearing masks to intimidate others, incite violence, or engage in criminal activity while protecting First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

• Monitor the implementation of Gov. Greg Abbott’s eight executive orders to prevent further mass shootings issued on September 5, 2019, and determine whether changes in law, policies, or resources are necessary to support these initiatives.

Video of the most recent public hearing on the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety is available at:

http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=14944

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David A. Díaz contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to  Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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