Featured: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, in this file photo with then-Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, October 4, 2012, during a news conference as part of the Texas Higher Education Leadership Conference in Austin.
Sen. Zaffirini receives a 2019 Legislative Achievement Award from AARP Texas for her efforts to improve the state’s guardianship system
By SARAH POLLOCK
Sen, Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who successfully carried legislation last spring to improve the guardian system in Texas, is one of 12 state lawmakers who have received the 2019 Legislative Award from AARP Texas.
Starr County is in Zaffirini’s Senate District 21.
Her Senate Bill 31, which went into effect on Sunday, September 1, 2019, established the Guardianship Abuse, Fraud, and Exploitation Deterrence Program, which will help prevent the exploitation of persons who need a legal guardian because they cannot care for themselves.
“I was delighted to receive this award and to have AARP Texas’ support in passing this critical bill,” Zaffirini said. “We developed Senate Bill 31 after hearing testimony about terrible physical and financial abuse that went undiscovered throughout the state for years. I hope guardianship cases now will receive more effective oversight, precluding further harm.”
A guardianship is a legal relationship created when a person or institution named in a will or assigned by the court to take care of minor children or incompetent adults. Sometimes called a conservatorship.
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability, and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation’s largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit http://www.aarp.org or follow @AARP and @AARPadvocates on social media.
Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville, was also among the dozen state lawmakers who earned a 2019 Legislative Award from AARP Texas.
In addition to Zaffirini and Lucio, III, the 10 other legislators to earn a 2019 Legislative Award from AARP Texas are, in alphabetical order:
Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco;
Rep. Trey Martínez-Fischer, D-San Antonio;
Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-Richland Hills;
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham;
Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress/Tomball;
Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall;
Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock;
Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo;
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Pearland; and
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.
Zaffirini was the primary author of Senate Bill 31, which also featured Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, as one of the eight Senate authors.
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was one of five Senate coauthors of Zaffirini’s Senate Bill 31.
Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, was one of the two sponsors of Senate Bill 31.
The 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.
The sponsor is the 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.
The 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.
Zaffirini received multiple awards following the 86th Texas Legislature, during which she passed 127 bills.
The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and the Texas Library Association also honored the senator for legislation she passed in 2019.
“My constituents reflect the diversity of our great state, and their interests and needs are equally varied,” the senator said. ‘Important legislation often must be filed again and again before it is successfully passed into law, such as the Guardianship Abuse, Fraud, and Exploitation Deterrence Program, which I passed on my second try. Persistence and resilience are the keys to successful lawmaking, and I was thrilled that our dedication this session yielded such wonderful results for Senate District 21 and for our state.”
Preparation for the legislative session that begins in 2021 is underway, and Zaffirini encourages advocates to begin working with her now to enhance their future success.
“My staff and I already are working with stakeholders to refile worthy bills that failed and to develop new legislation. We welcome suggestions and collaboration, especially from constituents, whose feedback has resulted in some of my best legislation,” she said.
The House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives, provided the following bill analysis of Senate Bill 31 in advance of the Tuesday, April 9, 2019 action by the House of Representatives:
Estates Code sec. 1163.101 requires a guardian of the estate of a ward to file detailed financial and property reports with the court.
Senate Bill 31 would require the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to establish and maintain a guardianship abuse, fraud, and exploitation deterrence program. The program would provide resources and assistance to courts handling guardianship cases by engaging guardianship compliance specialists and maintaining an electronic database to monitor required filings and annual reports by guardians.
The program’s guardianship compliance specialists would be required to:
• Review guardianships and identify reporting deficiencies;
• Audit required annual filings and report their findings to the appropriate courts;
• Work with courts to develop best practices in managing guardianship cases; and
• Report to the appropriate courts any concerns of potential abuse, fraud, or exploitation committed against a ward.
Courts selected by OCA would be required to participate in the program. Courts also could apply to participate. OCA’s administrative director would be authorized to notify the State Commission on Judicial Conduct if OCA had reason to believe that a judge’s actions or failure to act on a guardianship compliance specialist’s report of concern constituted judicial misconduct.
OCA would submit a report on the program’s performance to the Legislature by January 1 of each year. The report would have to include:
• The number of courts involved in the program;
• The number of guardianships reviewed;
• The number of guardianship cases found to be out of statutory compliance;
• The number of cases reported to a court concerning potential abuse, fraud, or exploitation committed against a ward; and
• The status of monitoring technology developed for the program.
Senate Bill 31 would expand the Office of Court Administration’s Guardianship Compliance Project pilot program to assist courts across the state in better protecting the growing population of Texans under guardianship.
Individuals under guardianship are among the most vulnerable in the state. Lacking the ability to care for themselves or to manage their own affairs, they are forced to rely on court-appointed guardians to take care of their most basic needs. Currently, there are about 51,000 active guardianships in Texas with a combined value of around $5 billion. In recent years, more than 3,500 new guardianships have been created annually, a number that is increasing as the state’s population ages.
Although statutes long have required a guardian to submit detailed financial reports to the court overseeing the guardianship estate, many courts lack the resources to ensure that the ward is not being abused, exploited, or defrauded. The Guardianship Compliance Project pilot program revealed that 41 percent of the almost 30,000 guardianship cases reviewed were not in compliance with statutory reporting requirements and that nearly 21,000 active guardianships were in counties lacking adequate resources to oversee these cases.
While OCA found that recent reforms have improved the guardianship system in Texas, a key component to these reforms’ continued success would be the expansion of the pilot program to monitor compliance with statutory reporting requirements and to review cases for abuse, fraud, and exploitation statewide.
By expanding this well-developed program, Senate Bill 31 would allow OCA to provide resources and assistance to judges across the state in protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens in the most cost-effective manner for taxpayers.
Senate Bill 31 could be expensive and increase the size of government.
According to the Legislative Budget Board, the bill would have a negative impact of $5.9 million to general revenue-related funds through fiscal 2020-21.
SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE INVITES COMMUNITY TO EXPLORE HIGH DEMAND, HIGH WAGE CAREERS AT STARR COUNTY CAMPUS
South Texas College leaders are inviting residents in Starr County to visit and explore high demand, high wage career opportunities on December 4, 2019, and December 5, 2019.
On Wednesday, December 4, 2019, the Emergency Medical Technology (EMT) Program will open its doors from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and on Thursday, December 5, 2019, the patient Career Assistant Program will also welcome members of the community from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
All information sessions will take place on campus in Building C-319.
These and other medical and technical driven programs offered at the Starr County campus can potentially earn students more money in less than a year.
Whether fresh out of high school or in the workforce looking for better opportunities, everyone is encouraged to invest in their future with career training close to home and with lower tuition.
“I have seen students graduate from South Texas College and quickly realize that opportunities to enter the workforce or continue in higher education are plentiful,” said Starr County campus Administrator Dr. Arturo Montiel. “My position as campus administrator allows me to focus on Starr County where the community is active and embraces higher education.”
The Starr County campus specializes in high demand and high wage technology programs including courses in Electrician Technology, Automotive Technology, and Precision Manufacturing Technology (PMT).
The campus also brandishes an award-winning welding program that has doubled in size due to regional and state demands for the skill.
For students seeking their degrees in Emergency Medical Technology, Patient Care Assisting, or Vocational Nursing, a 55,000 square foot Health Professions Science Center lies at the heart of the campus housing Biology and Chemistry labs, computer facilities as well as simulation and skill labs for health professions.
Registration for the upcoming 2020 spring semester is underway at South Texas College’s Starr County campus. Classes start January 21 and students are encouraged to register early. There is no better time to begin studying for the career of your dreams, fast and close to home.
“Along with new facilities, highly qualified faculty with academic credentials as well as real occupational experience in these areas, we deliver classroom and hands-on training to help students compete in their chosen career area,” Montiel said.
South Texas College offers more than 120 degree and certificate programs with classes ranging from art, biology, and automotive technology to nursing, mathematics and political science. More than 34,000 students attend STC, and a faculty and staff of more than 1,600 serve STC’s five state-of-the-art campuses, two teaching centers and South Texas College Online, a virtual campus.
Day, night, weekend, and online classes allow students to fit school into even the busiest of schedules.
Many classes are in high demand and fill quickly, so early registration ensures the best selection of classes and times. Advisors are available to assist new students with the registration process.
The early payment deadline for Spring 2020 is Friday, December 13, 2019.
The normal payment deadline is Friday, January 10, 2019, and the final payment deadline is Friday, January 31, 2019. Registration is now open.
Students can save $60 when they register by the early bird deadline. Installment plans and flexible payment plans are still available.
Current and recently enrolled students can register online at SouthTexasCollege.edu/register or at any South Texas College location. New students can apply for admission online, or in-person. A complete listing of upcoming classes is available at SouthTexasCollege.edu/academics/courses/. For more information call 956-488-6990.
David A. Díaz and Joey Gómez 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).