Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County, on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, is congratulated by Sen. Morgan LaMantia, D-South Padre Island, for Zaffirini achieving a Texas and U.S. record: her 70,000th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate.
Photograph By SENATE MEDIA
Sen. Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County, passes 122 bills during 88th Texas Legislature’s regular session in 2023
By PEYTON STRAUSS
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County, passed 122 bills during the 88th Texas Legislature’s regular session in 2023, which began in early January and ended in late May.
That figure brings the total number of bills that she has passed during her decades-long career in the Senate to 1,388.
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by the Texas Senate and Texas 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.
Bill types include Senate and House bills, Senate and House Joint Resolutions, Senate and House Concurrent Resolutions, and Senate and House Resolutions.
The Senate’s highest-ranking woman and Hispanic member, Zaffirini was the highest bill-passer for the fifth consecutive session. She has passed more bills than any legislator in the history of the State of Texas.
She has never missed a vote in the Texas Senate since her swearing-in in 1987.
“That is unbelievable,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said as he presented her with a commemorative gavel on Wednesday, May 10, 2023.
The Senate Ladies Club presented her with a bouquet of flowers.
“Every vote counts, and I take my responsibility to cast each one seriously,” Zaffirini said. “I will continue to work hard on behalf of my constituents and to represent them to the best of my ability.”
Her legislation during the recently-completed five-month long regular session in 2023 includes 64 Senate bills that she authored and 58 House bills she sponsored.
An author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).
A 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.
“I am grateful to my fellow legislators in both chambers for their support,” she said. “Bipartisan collaboration is the key to representing the best interests of the families of our districts by passing the best possible bills.”
Bipartisanship is teamwork that involves the agreement or cooperation of two political parties that usually oppose each other’s policies.
Her bills address the priorities of Senate District 21, which stretches from the Rio Grande to the Colorado River.
“Although my district enjoys rich cultural diversity, we 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.”
As a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, Zaffirini successfully obtained necessary funding for Senate District 21, including the following measures of which she was an author or sponsor:
• As a member on the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, she passed her “bots” bills, Senate Bill 58 and Senate Bill 1639. Bots, short for robots or web robots, are software applications designed to automate tasks on the internet. Some bots are malicious and purchase large quantities of items faster than a human ever could to resell them at inflated prices.
“We made progress toward creating a fair digital marketplace for all,” she said.
• Highlighting her commitment to inclusivity and innovation in education, Zaffirini championed measures ranging from addressing the needs of students from Pre-K to doctoral programs across the state.
Her Senate Bill 55, for example, requires a comprehensive study of graduation rates and financial aid for students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 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.
The information obtained as a result of Senate Bill 55 would provide a clearer picture on the successes and failures of institutions of higher education in Texas in serving this population and could inform new programs, services, or specialized curricula that could greatly improve the academic and post-graduation prospects of students with ASD.
• Her Senate Bill 68 allows up to two excused absences per year from public school for career explorations for certain students to visit a professional’s workplace for a career investigation day.
• She was the sponsor of House Bill 584, which encourages a partnership between the Department of Information Resources and public educational institutions to offer a state IT credential program to prepare students for entry-level IT positions in state agencies.
• She was also the sponsor of House Bill 1225, which allows paper assessments upon request, offering an additional layer of flexibility in the educational training process.
Some have suggested that a student’s parent, guardian, or teacher should be able to request a paper test for their student to avoid certain technical difficulties that can occur when a student completes a standardized test online.
• Following the the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding accessibility to health and human services in Senate District 21 remains a priority of Zaffirini.
The healthcare reform measures she passed during the 88th Texas Legislature regular session include her Senate Bill 2476, which prohibits balance billing practices for non-emergency municipal ground ambulances services, capping the total cost of ambulance rides to approximately $1,500.
Balance billing occurs when providers bill a patient for the difference between the amount they charge and the amount that the patient’s insurance approves.
• The senator also passed Cati’s Act, or House Bill 59, which is named after 6-year-old drowning victim, Cati Dela Peña.
Cati’s Act helps prevent accidental drownings by requiring those who are caring for children who cannot swim to wear a life jacket during water activities, which will save the lives of children across the state.
• Zaffirini’s criminal justice agenda included passing Senate Bill 49, which expands relocation benefits for crime victims and their families; Senate Bill 1717, which broadens the definition and repercussions of stalking offenses; and Senate Bill 1401, which requires forensic medical examinations for sexual assault victims, ensuring appropriate care and effective evidence collection; and simplifies access to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund.
• She also sponsored House Bill 611, which criminalizes doxing, the act of publicly revealing previously private personal information about persons without their consent and with the intent to do harm.
Doxing can and has led to cyber harassment, identity theft, physical violence and even, in rare cases, death.
Zaffirini maintains an open door policy. Constituents may contact her or her staff, especially regarding their perspectives about legislation, via:
[email protected] and her district office (956/722-2293) or her Capitol office (512/463-0121).
For a complete list of her legislative history during the 88th Texas Legislature regular session, log on to:
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).