FEATURED: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County, center, shares a laugh with constituents of her Senate District 21 during a campaign rally on Thursday, September 7, 2022.
Photograph Courtesy SEN. JUDITH ZAFFIRINI FACEBOOK
Sen. Zaffirini introduces 44 bills featuring her longstanding priorities of education, especially early and higher education, and healthcare, especially for the very young, the very old, persons with disabilities, and veterans
By LAURA FÉLIX
DAVID A. DÍAZ
Consistent with her tradition, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County, was first in line to prefile legislation on Monday, November 14, 2022 for the 88th Texas Legislature, which convenes on Tuesday, January 10, 2022.
Convene means to assemble or call to order the members of a legislative body.
Legislation is a proposed or enacted law or group of laws.
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by both the Senate and the House of Representatives 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.
Prefiling is the term given to bills and other proposed legislation introduced into the Texas Legislature before the beginning of a five-month legislative regular session.
Zaffirini prefiled 44 bills, reflecting her dedication to the constituents of Senate District 21, and the urgency with which she believes those issues must be addressed.
Her legislation reflects her longstanding priorities of education, especially early and higher education, and healthcare, especially for the very young, the very old, persons with disabilities and veterans.
“Although working hard to be reelected on Tuesday, November 8, 2022by a margin of, 62-36 percent, I worked even harder with my staff to develop these 44 bills to prefile on Monday (November 14, 2022),” Zaffirini said. “I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues to address myriad (many) issues and build a safer, more prosperous and more equitable Texas.”
Expanding Medicaid services lower-income families
A lifelong advocate for accessible, affordable health care, Zaffirini filed Senate Bill 39 and Senate Joint Resolution 6, which would expand Medicaid services to persons at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $38,295 annually or $3,191.25 monthly for a family of four).
Medicaid is the state and federal cooperative venture that provides medical coverage to eligible needy persons. The purpose of Medicaid in Texas is to improve the health of people in Texas who might otherwise go without medical care for themselves and their children.
A Senate or House joint resolution is a type of legislative measure that requires adoption by the House of Representatives and the Senate, but does not require action by the governor.
A Senate or House 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.
She also filed Senate Bill 51, which would improve accessibility to high-quality hearing aids, and Senate Bill 52, which would ensure caregivers can visit family members at state hospitals.
Zaffirini: “Mental healthcare is a right — not a privilege”
Consistent with her belief that mental health is as important as physical health, Zaffirini filed Senate Bill 47, which would increase the availability of mental health counselors, social workers and marriage and family therapists, and Senate Bill 63, which would direct Texas Health and Human Services and the Texas Veterans Commission to make more widely available a guide regarding caring for veterans with mental illnesses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.
“Healthcare, including mental healthcare, is a right — not a privilege,” Zaffirini said. “We must do more to make this basic care affordable and accessible for all Texans.”
Tuition-free colleges and universities
Always a champion of higher education, she filed Senate Bills 34 and 35, which would establish tuition-free colleges and universities for students with household incomes less than $100,000.
Relatedly, her Senate Bill 36 would reinstate her B-on-Time Student Loan Program, which offered zero-interest student loans that could be forgiven for students who earned their degrees timely and with a GPA of at least 3.0.
“Higher education is a key to success,” Zaffirini said. “The future of our state will be brighter if leaders of tomorrow earn their degrees today.”
She also said that childhood education is the best predictor of academic success, beginning with first grade and extending through higher education.
Accordingly, Zaffirini filed Senate Bill 38, which would establish universal pre-kindergarten by extending current eligibility to 3-year-olds.
Universal pre-kindergarten, also known as “preschool for all”, is a policy framework that gives all families with preschool-aged children the opportunity to enroll their child in a publicly-funded pre-kindergarten care and education program in a state or community.
To recruit well-qualified teachers and reward those who have committed their lives to this noble profession, her Senate Bill 33 would provide a one-time, 10 percent COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) with subsequent annual increases based on inflation if the Teacher Retirement System of Texas has the funds to cover them.
“Retired teachers have not received a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their benefits since 2004 and get an average of only $2,100 per month,” Zaffirini said.
Improve Texas open government laws
A 2021 recipient of the Texas Press Association’s Champion of Transparency award, Zaffirini prefiled five bills to reform the state’s open government laws.
They include Senate Bill 42, which would establish requirements for open meetings that are broadcast over the Internet or held by telephone conference or videoconference call, and Senate Bill 43, which would close the “skeleton crew” loophole by defining “business day” in the Texas Public Information Act.
The Texas Public Information Act provides a mechanism for citizens to inspect or copy government records. It also provides that governmental bodies may withhold government records from the public in specific instances.
Senate Bill 44, which would provide additional enforcement mechanisms to encourage prompt compliance and timely responses to Texas Public Information Act requestors.
“Transparency is essential to preserving democratic governance,” Zaffirini said. “To hold leaders accountable, Texans need to know what happens in the halls of power.”
What’s more, as a member of the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, she is determined to find solutions to address gun violence.
Because the mass shooting in Uvalde and many others have been committed by young persons with assault weapons, her Senate Bill 32 would increase from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase these firearms.
Zaffirini also prefiled the following bills:
• Senate Bill 31, authorizing power companies to connect to the national grid;
• Senate Bill 37, updating hazing statutes.
Hazing is a criminal violation under Texas law. A person may be found guilty of criminal conduct for hazing, encouraging hazing, permitting hazing, or having knowledge of the planning of hazing incidents and failure to report in writing his/her knowledge to the Dean of Students or Director of Student Life.
• Senate Bill 40, establishing a boil water alert notice system;
• Senate Bill 41, prohibiting persons from using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving a vehicle;
Senate Bill 45, requiring open records information to be produced in a searchable and sortable format, such as an Excel spreadsheet, if such information is maintained in that manner;
Senate Bill 46, requiring disclosure of redacted dates of birth under the Texas Public Information Act pertaining to criminal background checks and candidates for public office
Senate Bill 48, providing protective orders standardized forms to increase the efficiency in processing these lifesaving measures.
If a person has been a victim of violence, stalking or sexual abuse, they can apply for a court order to keep their abuser away from them. This order is called a Protective Order (“PO”). There are different types of protective orders for which a person may apply for victims of domestic abuse, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking.
• Senate Bill 49, expanding eligibility to access to the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program and increase the payment caps, so these funds can be utilized more effectively.
The Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund Program helps crime victims and their immediate families with the financial costs of crime. The Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund covers crime-related costs such as counseling, medical treatment, funerals and loss of income not paid by other sources.
• Senate Bill 50, ensuring facilities that cared for children who died from preventable deaths can no longer obtain a license, listing or registration in the future;
• Senate Bill 53, authorizing financial assistance to economically distressed areas for the costs associated with back-up power generators for facilities of public water supply and sanitary sewer systems;
• Senate Bill 54, allowing pregnant minors to enroll in home visiting programs if they otherwise meet eligibility;
• Senate Bill 55, requiring a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board study regarding how to assist students with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention;
• Senate Bill 56 and Senate Joint Resolution 7, allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they would be 18 by the date of general election;
• Senate Bill 57, permitting the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to file a claim for unclaimed property on behalf of a victim of a criminal offense if the reported owner of the unclaimed property: was convicted; and, based on that conviction, is confined in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility and was ordered to pay restitution to his or her victim;
• Senate Bill 58, prohibiting the use of online sales bots.
A bot is a self-service automated system that scans thousands of website pages around the world once a produce inquiry has been made. Once it finds the best deal, it will immediately use the bot user without wasting a second.
The bill targets shoppers from using bots, which allows them easily by coveted products online or in-stores, thus making it harder for the average consumer to buy the products. Bot users will typically then take their high-demand product and sell them on the secondary market at heavily higher prices.
• Senate Bill 59, helping non-county taxing entities such as school districts avert the unintended consequences of residential sales being voided for unintentionally failing to comply with applicable Local Government Code provisions by adding a reference to these provisions in the Delinquent Tax Sales section of the Tax Code;
• Senate Bill 60, allowing holders of distiller’s or rectifier’s permits to engage in contract distilling for the manufacture, bottling, labeling, packaging and sale to wholesalers of distilled spirits;
• Senate Bill 61, giving the comptroller the option to send electronically to a person the written notice of the hearing or decision to revoke or suspend the person’s permit or license for failure to comply with provisions governing state taxation or a rule;
• Senate Bill 62, requiring the county to post online information regarding foreclosures and ad valorem tax forms;
• Senate Bill 64, making technical changes to improve efficiency in mental health courts;
• Senate Bill 65, excluding the furnishing of an academic transcript from the definition of “information service” for purposes of sales and use taxes;
• Senate Bill 66, clarifying that emergency services personnel would not lose their civil service classification as granted by a citywide vote if the municipality adopts a new form of government;
• Senate Bill 67, prohibiting employers who have committed wage theft from participating in state contracts and ensuring the public knows those employers via a database on the Texas Workforce Commission’s website;
• Senate Bill 68, allowing high school students to explore potential career paths and visit professional workplaces by granting them an excused absence;
• Senate Bill 69 and Senate Joint Resolution 8, establishing a Texas Redistricting Commission and transferring responsibilities for redistricting Congressional, state Senate and state House of Representative districts from the Legislature to this commission;
• Senate Bill 70, creating an interagency workgroup to study unfunded mandates on local government; and
• Senate Joint Resolution 9, proposing a constitutional amendment to opt out of daylight savings time.
Zaffirini and her staff invite constituents to participate in the legislative process and to share their advice, feedback and suggestions.
They may be contacted via 512/463-0121.
To obtain the links to each of the above 44 bills prefiled by Zaffirini, please log on to:
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).