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Sen. Zaffirini passes 106 bills during 87th Legislative Session – most of any state lawmaker – including measures that addressed COVID-19 recovery needs, and reveal names and locations of nursing homes with communicable diseases - Titans of the Texas Legislature

FEATURED, FRONT ROW, FROM LEFT: Shayne Woodard, Derrick Chubbs, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County; and Beth Corbett. Back row, from left: Jamie Olson; and Alma Bouble. Those individuals were on hand on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, at the Texas Capitol for the presentation by Zaffirini of Senate Resolution 142, which recognized the efforts of the 21 food banks in Texas for “their critical assistance to Texans in need during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic turmoil.”

Photograph Courtesy SEN. JUDITH ZAFFIRINI FACEBOOK

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Sen. Zaffirini passes 106 bills during 87th Legislative Session – most of any state lawmaker – including measures that addressed COVID-19 recovery needs, and reveal names and locations of nursing homes with communicable diseases

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

When the 87th Texas Legislature ended on Monday, May 31, 2021, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County, who is the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic member of the Senate, also passed the highest number of bills for the fourth consecutive regular session.

The 140-day regular session began on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.

The 106 figure does not include dozens of successful legislative resolutions – which are formal expressions of recognition, opinion, or decision, other than a proposed law, that may be offered for approval to one or both chambers of the Legislature by a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate.

Her record-setting level also does not include any of her amendments, which are proposed changes to a bill or resolution as it moves through the legislative process. Amendments to a measure may be proposed by members in their assigned committees or by any member of a chamber during that chamber’s second or third reading consideration of the measure.

A committee is a group of legislators appointed by the presiding officer of the house or the senate to which proposed legislation is referred or a specific task is assigned.

A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by the House of Representatives and the Senate and action by the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state. “Bill” types include Senate and House bills, Senate and House joint resolutions, Senate and House concurrent resolutions, and Senate and House resolutions.

Despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant budget deficit, and Winter Storm Uri, Zaffirini passed 106 bills and extended her career-long voting record past 65,000 consecutive votes—well beyond that of any other legislator in the United States.

Her bills address the priorities of Senate District 21, which stretches from the Rio Grande to the Colorado River and from the Port of Corpus Christi to the Valley.

“Although my district enjoys rich cultural diversity, we all share several universal needs,” she said. “Our quality of life depends on economic vibrancy, access to health care, and excellent and affordable educational opportunities for all — including early childhood and higher education.”

After the pandemic revealed and worsened inequities in the state’s health care system, Zaffirini introduced legislation proposing important health and human services reforms. As the eighth of 23 women elected to the Texas Senate since 1927, Zaffirini has consistently advocated for protections for women, especially survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

She helped pass into law numerous measures in her capacities as an author or a sponsor.

An author is a legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).

A sponsor is a 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.

Bills are “filed” by state lawmakers in order to begin the legislative process that can lead to those measures becoming state laws.

“Filed” is used to refer to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number.

Sometimes, the governor will object to a bill passed by the Texas Legislature (House of Representatives and the Senate), and will veto the measure, which almost always means that it will not become state law.

In the following synopsis of Zaffirini’s key legislation, Internet links are provided to the text of the bill, and if available, bill analyses of the measures by the House Research Organization or the Senate Research Center.

The House Research Organization is a nonpartisan independent department of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides impartial information on legislation and issues before the Texas Legislature. The HRO is governed by a broadly representative steering committee of 15 House members elected by the House membership to set policy for the organization, approve its budget, and ensure that its reports are objective.

The Senate Research Center is a nonpartisan department of the Senate and provides quality, specialized, objective research and information to the Texas Senate and Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

The House Research Organization and Senate Research Center bill analysis provides details on bills as they are about to be debated and acted upon by either the House of Representatives or the Senate.

Changes to those bills may occur that are not reflected in the bill analyses. As a result, individuals are encouraged to contact Zaffirini’s Capitol office to request information on any last-minute changes that may have occurred on any of the bills she authored or sponsored that are provided in this article.

She may be reached at 512/463-0121.

In each bill filed, a strike-through (strike-through) of any text of a bill means those words or phrases are being eliminated from existing state law. All words or phrases that are being added by the bill to existing law are underlined (underlined).

Highlights of some of the priority bills filed by Zaffirini follow:

BILLS AUTHORED:

Senate Bill 36: Relating to the creation of a higher education task force focused on mental health services and the offense of hazing.

Senate Bill 36 was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott

“Hazing on campus is a serious problem that deserves serious attention, which is why I signed Senate Bill 38 into law last session (in 2019). This session’s Senate Bill 36 was a worthy effort to further clarify the anti-hazing statute until the House sponsor added an unnecessary provision that would simply grow government by creating yet another new task force. It is important to ensure that students receive mental health services, and Texas’ existing agencies and institutions can already study the issues that would be addressed by this vast new bureaucratic entity. Unfortunately, the Senate author’s good idea to clean up a statute has been undercut by the House sponsor.” – Gov. Greg Abbott

Senate Bill 40 – Authorize telehealth offerings for health occupations regulated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration.

Senate Bill 41 – Consolidates civil court filing fees.

Senate Bill 43 – Protects lenders against predatory wrap mortgage lending practices.

Senate Bill 44 – Allows state employees to volunteer with additional relief organizations after a disaster, rather than only with the American Red Cross.

Senate Bill 45 – Protects employees of companies with fewer than 15 employees from workplace sexual harassment. (Current law extends legal protections only to persons who work at companies with more than 15 employees.)

Senate Bill 49 – Ensures that officials responsible for incarcerated persons can access their mental health records.

Senate Bill 50 – Helps persons with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid find competitive, integrated employment.

Senate Bill 692 – Grants access to certain financial records by the Guardianship Abuse, Fraud, and Exploitation Deterrence Program.

Senate Bill 884 – Transfers management of the Regional Campus at Laredo to The University of Texas System to operate as a multi-institution health education center.

Senate Bill 930 – The name or location of a nursing home or similar facility in which residents have been diagnosed with a communicable disease and the number of residents diagnosed is not confidential and is subject to disclosure by state agencies or local health authorities under the Texas Public Information Act.

Senate Bill 959 – Includes workforce education courses in criteria for student success-based funding for community colleges.

Senate Bill 1458 – Adds “indecent assault” to the list of offenses for which a court may issue a protective order.

Senate Bill 1458 was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott

Governor’s Veto Proclamation:

“Senate Bill 1458’s goal of having model forms for protective orders, orders for emergency protection, and temporary ex parte orders is a sound one, but this is already allowed. The Office of Court Administration can and is encouraged to, create model forms to help achieve the commendable goals behind Senate Bill 1458. But the bill would go further and impose categorical mandates that courts use standardized forms, without addressing what happens if a court deviates from the prescribed form and without allowing flexibility for unique cases. I vetoed similar legislation last session (in 2019), without appropriate safeguards, mandating the use of standardized forms in criminal cases sets a trap for courts whose order may be challenged as void for deviating from the form and creates loopholes for opportunistic litigants to pursue needless challenges. I appreciate the good intentions of the bill author and sponsor in aiming to protect the victims of horrible crimes like family violence and sexual assault, but the mandatory use of standardized forms can inadvertently cause more problems that may detract from the effort to help victims.” – Gov. Greg Abbott

Senate Bill 1772 – Incentivizes solar power facilities to conserve habitats for bees and other pollinators.

Senate Bill 1772 was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott

Governor’s Veto Proclamation:

“Senate Bill 1772 offered a program that was totally voluntary. Voluntary laws are not needed to drive public behavior.” – Gov. Greg Abbott

Senate Bill 1801 – Modernizes the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) capacity to receive the repayment of unemployment benefits issued in error.

Senate Bill 2099 – Requires Texas Workforce Commission to ensure that unemployment compensation claimants are able to leave a phone message for and receive a return phone call or email response from the agency regarding the status of their unemployment claims. What’s more, Senate Bill 2099 requires that information regarding this process be displayed prominently on TWC’s website.

BILLS SPONSORED BY ZAFFIRINI

House Bill 21 – Changes the deadline for filing a sexual harassment complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission from 180 to 300 days.

House Bill 33 – Allows military experience to be considered for college course credit.

House Bill 39 – Clarifies that agreed-to protective orders are enforceable, regardless of whether courts find that family violence occurred or is likely to occur in the future, allows adults to apply for protective orders related to human trafficking on behalf of children or persons under guardianship, and makes updates regarding expiry dates.

House Bill 79 – Provides for the appointment of associate judges for guardianship proceedings and protective services proceedings.

House Bill 103 – Establishes the Texas Active Shooter Alert System.

House Bill 119 – Prohibits organ transplant recipient discrimination on the basis of disability.

House Bill 295 – Funds indigent defense services.

House Bill 375 – Makes the sexual abuse of a young child or a disabled person a first-degree felony

House Bill 428 – Require health insurers to cover ovarian cancer screenings.

House Bill 699– Excused absences for students diagnosed with or undergoing treatment for severe illness.

House Bill 780Establishes a bone marrow donor recruitment program.

House Bill 1172 – Establishes trauma-informed investigation procedures for sexual assault cases.

HB 1301 – Relating to services provided by colonia self-help centers and a study of colonias in Texas.

House Bill 1423 – Requires long-term care facilities to submit to regular inspections and maintain an emergency power source.

House Bill 4344 – Ensures the State Commission on Judicial Conduct processes complaints against judges timely.

ZAFFIRINI ANNOUNCES 11 BILLS SHE WILL REFILE IN 2023

Senate Bill 33 – Would establish tuition-free higher education for students with annual household incomes below $100,000. Senate Bill 33 was referred to the Senate Committee on Higher Education but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Bill 34 – Would establish the Texas Promise grant program, guaranteeing free tuition and fees for eligible Texas students attending public two-year institutions of higher education. Senate Bill 34 was referred to the Senate Committee on Higher Education but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Bill 37 – Would establish universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds and extend currently eligibility to 3-year-olds. Senate Bill 37 was referred to the Senate Committee on Higher Education but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Bill 38/Senate Joint Resolution 11 – Would expand Medicaid for persons with income at or below 138 percent of federal poverty.

Senate Bill 38 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Joint Resolution 11 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

A joint resolution is a type of legislative measure that requires adoption by both the House of Representatives and the Senate 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.

Senate Bill 39 – Would increase the continuous eligibility period for children enrolled in Medicaid. Senate Bill 38 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Bill 42 – Would prohibit persons from using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving. Senate Bill 42 was referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs but never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Bill 55/Senate Joint Resolution 12 – Would allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the date of the general election to vote in the primaries.

Senate Bill 55 was referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs but never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Joint Resolution 12 was referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs but never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Bill 57 – Would extend the deadline for a person to make a wage claim with the Texas Workforce Commission. Senate Bill 57 was referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Bill 468 – Would change Immtrac2 from an opt-in to an opt-out system. Senate Bill 468 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Bill 693 – Would make it easier for senior citizens to audit community college courses. Senate Bill 693 was referred to the Senate Committee on Higher Education but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

Senate Joint Resolution 32 – Would propose a constitutional amendment repealing the order of business for the regular legislative sessions. Senate Bill 693 was referred to the Senate Committee oil Administration but was never scheduled for a public hearing.

A constitutional amendment is a change to the state constitution. A constitutional amendment is proposed by the legislature in the form of a joint resolution that must be adopted by both chambers of the legislature by a two-thirds vote and be approved by a majority of the voters to become effective.

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Laura Félix 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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