Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Changes in the Law from 80th Session


HB 1038 by Ritter - Revising Operation of the Texas Residential Construction Commission
• Revises disciplinary actions and the inspections process under the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC) Act, and changes requirements for registered builders and the composition of the TRCC.
• Lowers the value of interior home improvements subject to the TRCC Act from $20,000 to $10,000.
• In order to maintain registration, a builder must meet continuing education requirements, including five hours of continuing education every five years.
• A municipality must verify that a builder is registered with TRCC or exempt from registration before issuing a building permit.
• Requires registration of colonias and requires a homeowner of a colonia who claims a post-construction defect to go through the state-sponsored inspection and dispute-resolution process (SIRP).

More from the San Antonio Business Journal.

HB 1634 by Dukes - Incentives for Film, Television, and Related Industries
• To be eligible for moving image industry incentive grants, a project must generate $1 million in in-state spending for film or television programs or $100,000 in in-state spending for commercials.
• At least 70 percent of the production crew, actors, and extras must be Texas residents, and at least 80 percent of the project must be filmed in Texas.
• A grant application may be denied because of content that is inappropriate or that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.
• Qualifying applicants may receive a grant not to exceed the lesser of 5 percent of the total amount of a production company’s in-state spending or $2 million for a film; $2.5 million for a television program; $200,000 for a commercial or series of commercials; or $250,000 for a digital interactive media production.

HB 3358 by Smithee - Prohibiting Insurance Rate Increases During Judicial Review
• Prohibits an insurer from raising insurance rates before a matter under judicial review is finally resolved, unless the new rate is filed with the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) and approved by the insurance commissioner.
• Would discourage the insurers from using the court system to their advantage while challenging the disapproval of a rate increase by the insurance commissioner.
• This would prevent another situation such as when the insurance commissioner did not approve a rate increase proposed by State Farm. The company appealed the commissioner’s decision but has been able to charge the higher rate while the matter is under judicial review. Experts estimate that State Farm has made more than $600 million in premium and interest charges during its court challenge to TDI’s initial rate adjustment.


HB 8 by Riddle - Jessica's Law (Death Penalty and Other Punishments for Repeat Sex Crimes Against Children)
• Death Penalty for 2nd Aggravated Sexual Assault
• 25 years for Super Aggravated Sexual Assault
• Defines Continuous Sexual Assault of a Child to mean 30 days or more, commits two or more acts of sexual abuses, and the actor is older than 17 years of age and the victim is younger 14 years of age. The bill gives jury instructions and outlines affirmative defense to prosecution in certain instances.
• Also removes eligibility for probation for crimes against children under 14
• No deferred adjudication or parole for continuous sexual assault against a child or aggravated sexual assault
• Adds Sexual Performance by a Child into the "3g" offense (meaning that a judge is not allowed to order community supervision for this offense).
• Sexual Performance by a Child is now a first degree felony if the child is younger than 14.
• Requires GPS tracking of sexual violent predator
• No statute of limitations for serious sexual offenses such as aggravated sexual assault, continuous sexual abuse of a child, indecency with a child.
• Statute of limitations expanded to 20 years from the victim's 18th birthday, if the victim was younger than 17 at the time of the offense, and the offense was either sexual performance by a child, aggravated kidnapping if the intent was to sexually abuse or violate the child, or burglary if the intent was to sexually abuse or violate the child.

HB 2328 by Woolley - Animal Cruelty
• Creates a distinction between cruelty to "livestock" and "non-livestock" animals and enhances the punishment up to a state jail felony for both offenses if the accused tortures, poisons, and other animal cruelty offenses. All other acts remain a Class A misdemeanor, and prior convictions bump the punishment range up to a third degree felony.
• Preserves longstanding protections to prosecution for persons who fear bodily injury from a dangerous wild animal; or who engage in the acts of bona fide scientific experimentation, hunting, fishing, trapping, regulated wildlife control, farming, animal husbandry, and for certain acts against animals caught in the act of injuring or killing livestock animals.

SB 103 by Hinojosa - Revising the TYC Authority and Operations
• Prohibits misdemeanor offenders from being sent to TYC
• Requires TYC to provide 300 hours of training to guards before they begin their duties at facilities and to maintain a ratio at least 1 guard for every 12 youth committed to the facility.
• Creates an appeals process for sentence extension orders.
• Requires annual inspections of county juvenile facilities by local judges and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.
• Reimburses counties for certain expenditures associated with new procedures.
• Requires TYC to establish a Special Prosecutor as well as an Office of Inspector General for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting criminal acts among TYC youth, guards, and other TYC employees.
• Establishes an independent ombudsman
• Enhances criminal penalties for sexual offenses against TYC inmates
• Prohibits TYC from assigning a child younger than 15 years of age to the same dormitory as a youth at least 17 years of age.
• Requires the Texas Rangers to make monthly unannounced visits to TYC facilities and to submit reports to the Texas Sunset Commission for inclusion in TYC’s Sunset review evaluation.
• Requires a chaplain be appointed for each TYC institution.
• Mandates internal and external audits.

SB 378 by Wentworth - Castle Doctrine Bill (Use of Force or Deadly Force in Self-Defense)
• A person that uses force or deadly force is presumed to be reasonable if:
• someone has unlawfully and with force entered or is trying to enter the person’s occupied home, vehicle, or work place;
• unlawfully and with force removes or is trying to remove the person from the person’s home, vehicle, or work place;
• is trying to commit aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery;
• In order for it to be self-defense, the actor must not have provoked the person against whom force is used; and the actor is not engaged in a criminal activity at the time force is used, other than a minor traffic violation.
• An actor is not required to retreat if the actor has a right to be present at the location, has not provoked the person against whom the force is used, and is not engaging in criminal activity at the time.
• The bill provides civil immunity for self-defense.

SB 6 by Zaffirini/Peña- Online Solicitation of a Minor
• Increases the level of offense from a state jail felony to a felony of the third degree for a person that communicates with a minor in a sexually explicit manner or distributes sexually explicit material.
• Increases the level of offense from a third degree felony to a second degree felony if the person solicits a minor to meet with the intent to have sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse.

HB 1766 by Peña - Aluminum, Bronze, or Copper Wiring Theft
• Provides that the theft of wiring or cable that consists of at least 50 percent aluminum, bronze, or copper metals and that has a value of less than $20,000 is a state jail felony.


HB 12 by Hilderbran - Funding and Jurisdiction of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Historical Commission
• Provides protection for state parks and historical sites.
• Would establish a legislative task to study the issue of TPWD funding via the sporting goods sales tax to ensure that these funds are collected fairly.
• Ensures greater efficiency and improve the profit potential at TPWD sites.

SB 3 by Averitt - Water Resources Development and Management
• Provides designation protection for a minimum flow in rivers, bays, and estuaries. This will balance agricultural, commercial, and residential needs with important environmental considerations.
• Follows the recommendations in the 2007 state water plan by designating 19 reservoir sites that could be needed to meet the state’s water needs in the next half century, and would not seize any private property or put any undue restrictions on landowners for construction of these reservoir sites.
• Provide programs to encourage water conservation.

SB 12 by Averitt - Air Quality Enhancement Programs, Including Energy Efficiency Standards
• 2010 is the federal deadline for requirement standards, and several areas of Texas remain in noncompliance.
• In order to not lose any federal funding, the state needs to reduce the NOx emissions.
• It modifies guidelines set by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the Low-Income Vehicle Replacement Program (LIRAP) at the county level.
• Increases energy efficiency for buildings and appliances through programs such as the solar system installation in residences and businesses.


Repealing the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund assessment
HB 735 by Straus
Effective September 1, 2008
HB 735 will repeal the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund assessment, a 1.25 percent tax on the taxable receipts of telecommunications providers. Collection of the assessment will continue until September 30, 2008, but not after that date. The bill repeals Utilities Code ch. 57, subch. C and other sections of code governing the TIF board and policies.

Grants to encourage electric energy generation with biomass materials
HB 1090 by Swinford
Effective September 1, 2007
HB 1090 establishes an agriculture biomass and landfill diversion incentive program at the Department of Agriculture. The program will distribute grants to encourage electric energy generation with certain types of biomass materials. Grants will be distributed with the intent of moving the state forward in its goal to generate more renewable energy.

Electricity efficiency and conservation incentives
HB 693by Straus
Effective September 1, 2007
HB 693 requires local governments, state agencies, and universities to adopt various policies to save energy; revises building codes to encourage energy savings; and provides incentives to electric utilities and consumers to reduce the growth in demand for electricity.


HB 2685 by Chisum - Marriage License Fee Waiver for Premarital Education
• If a couple completes an 8 hour premarital education course, then the $60 marriage license fee is waived.
• Does not mandate the completion of a premarital education course.

SB 758 by Nelson - Child Protective Services Revisions
• Requires the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to implement a Child Protective Services (CPS) improvement plan with the primary goals of keeping families together while ensuring child safety in the home, reducing the time children remain in state care, and improving the quality and accountability of foster care.
• DFPS will provide enhanced in-home support for families in which poverty could be a significant cause of child neglect.
• Privatize all case management with increased measures.


HB 991 by Rose - Limiting Disclosure of Concealed Handgun Licensees
• Provides that only criminal justice/law enforcement agencies can obtain personal information (name, address, date of birth) of the concealed handgun licensee.
• Previously, anyone could file a written request and obtain private information regarding the concealed handgun licensee.

SB 11 by Carona - Emergency Management, Mutual Aid System, Wiretaps, Vehicle Tags, Border Security Council
• Designates certain local officials as emergency management directors to serve as the governor’s designated agents for duties under the Texas Disaster Act.
• Establishes the Texas Statewide Mutual Aid System to provide for statewide mutual aid responses between local governments that do not have written mutual aid agreements.
• Expands the current authority to use wiretaps from investigations of capital murder, child pornography, and certain drug crimes to include investigations of kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, trafficking of persons, and money laundering if the money laundering involved an offense against a person.
• Creates the Border Security Council to advise the governor about the allocation of border security funds and to develop and recommend to the governor performance standards, reporting requirements, audit methods, and other procedures to ensure funds allocated by the governor for border security are used properly and that fund recipients are held accountable for the funds. The council is composed of members appointed by the governor, at least one-third of whom must be residents of the Texas-Mexico border region.
• Authorizes DPS to issue an enhanced driver’s license or identification card for crossing the Texas-Mexico border. These may be issued only to applicants who prove their U.S. citizenship, identity, and Texas residency. DPS must implement a biometric matching system for the enhanced license.
• Expands the kinds of activities that may be considered part of the criminal offense of human trafficking, requires certain hotels and other public lodgings that have tolerated human trafficking and are part of a common nuisance civil suit to post a toll-free number concerning human trafficking, and directs the attorney general and the Health and Human Services Commission to conduct studies on human trafficking.

SB 1908 by Ellis - Modifying Provisions for Statewide and Local Housing Programs
• Establishes the Texas First-Time Homebuyer Program to facilitate the origination of single-family mortgage loans for eligible first-time homebuyers and to provide loans for down payment and closing cost assistance.
• To be eligible for a mortgage loan through the program, an individual must qualify as a first-time homebuyer and meet income eligibility and other departmental requirements.


HB 14 and HJR 90 by Keffer - Cancer Research Funding
Effective pending voter approval November 6, 2007
• The purpose of the institute would be to:
• create and expedite innovation in the area of cancer research enhancing the potential for a scientific breakthrough in the prevention of and cure for cancer;
• attract, create, or expand research capabilities of higher education institutions and other public or private entities that would promote a substantial increase in cancer research and in the creation of high-quality new jobs in Texas; and
• develop and implement the Texas Cancer Plan.
• HJR 90 would amend the Texas Constitution to establish the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and enable the Texas Public Finance Authority to issue general obligation bonds on behalf of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute in an amount not to exceed $3 billion, with no more than $300 million in bonds authorized to be issued in a year, for grants for cancer research and operation of the institute.

HB 109 by Turner - Children's Health Insurance Program Eligibility Revisions
• Establishes Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) income eligibility levels using net family income rather than gross family income. The definition of net family income allows a reduction for child-care expenses for determining income eligibility.
• The period that a child remains eligible for CHIP benefits increases from six months to a period not to exceed 12 months.
• The family allowable asset limit for CHIP eligibility increases from $5,000 to $10,000. The value of vehicles that may be exempted from the asset calculation increases as well.
• HHSC will contract with community-based organizations to conduct community outreach promoting knowledge of and enrollment in child health programs. The outreach campaign will include school-based clinics and a toll-free number. Outreach materials must be written in Spanish and English.

SB 10 by Nelson - Revisions to the Medicaid Program and Access to Health Care
Access to health care.
• The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) will promote access to federally qualified health centers or rural health clinics.
• Former foster care youth enrolled in an institution of higher education may receive Medicaid benefits up to the age of 23.
• Individuals preferring to enroll in a group health benefit plan may opt-out of Medicaid coverage, and HHSC will pay the individual’s share of required premiums up to the estimated total Medicaid cost.
Client-centered revisions.
• If cost-effective and feasible, HHSC will implement a health savings account pilot program to encourage health care cost awareness and promote appropriate utilization of Medicaid services among volunteer participants.
• If cost-effective and feasible, certain Medicaid recipients may designate a primary care provider to provide the recipients’ initial and primary care and initiate referrals to other health care providers.
• HHSC will develop and implement a pilot program in one region under which Medicaid recipients receive incentives to lead healthy lifestyles.
• Women eligible for Medicaid coverage to treat breast or cervical cancer will be eligible for coverage for screenings for these cancers.
• HHSC will contract for an acute care Medicaid billing coordination system and implement fraud detection and deterrence measures proven effective by a study.

Higher Education

High school curriculum requirements for higher education admission
HB 3826 by Morrison
Effective June 15, 2007
To qualify for admission to a general academic institution of higher education in Texas, HB 3826 will require, beginning with admissions for the 2008-09 academic school year, all high school students who graduate from a public or an accredited private high school in Texas to:
• graduate under the recommended or advanced high school curriculum or its equivalent;
• satisfy ACT’s college readiness benchmarks; or
• score at least 1,500 on the SAT exam.
HB 3826 will require students graduating with a grade point average in the top 10 percent of their high school class to complete the recommended or advanced high school curriculum, or its equivalent, to qualify for automatic admission to a Texas university.

Establishing the Texas Tomorrow Fund II prepaid tuition program
HB3900 by Morrison
Effective June 15, 2007
HB 3900 establishes the Texas Tomorrow Fund II pre-paid tuition unit undergraduate education program, to be administered by the Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board in the Comptroller’s Office. The fund will receive money from the purchase of prepaid tuition contracts, plus income earned from investment of fund assets.
• Purchasers may pre-pay the costs of all or a portion of a student’s undergraduate tuition at four-year and two-year institutions, both private and public, or at accredited out-of-state institutions.
• The beneficiary must be a state resident or the child of a state resident at the time the purchaser enters the pre-paid tuition contract.
• Purchasers may transfer money between Texas Tomorrow Fund II accounts and similar prepaid plans established in Texas or other states.
The program offers three types of pre-paid tuition units to Texas residents:
• Type I units are based on the cost of undergraduate resident tuition and required fees charged by the universities with the highest tuition and fee costs.
• Type II units are based on the cost of the weighted average undergraduate resident tuition and fees at universities.
• Type III are based on the cost of the weighted average resident tuition and fees of two-year institutions.
Each unit costs 1 percent of a year’s tuition and fees at current rates. The board must adjust the purchase price of the tuition units annually based on the actual cost of tuition.
Purchasers may buy one type of unit or a combination of unit types.

Limiting top 10 percent automatic undergraduate admissions
SB 101 by Shapiro
Conference committee report died in the House


Amending venue rules for lawsuits involving maritime workers
HB 160by Van Arsdale
Effective May 24, 2007
HB 1602establishes new venue rules for civil actions under the federal Jones Act, which provides a cause of action for the injury or death of maritime workers in the course of their employment. If all or a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to a Jones Act claim occurred in Texas or on the state’s inland waters, the suit may be brought in the county in which a substantial part of the events occurred or where the defendant’s principal Texas office is located.
If a substantial part of the events or omissions occurred ashore in a Gulf Coast state other than Texas or on inland waters outside Texas, the venue may be in the county:
• where the defendant’s principal office in Texas is located, if the office is located in a coastal county;
• in the county where the plaintiff resided at the time the cause of action accrued, if the defendant does not have a principal office in a coastal county; or
• in Harris or Galveston counties, depending on the plaintiff’s residence.
All other suits brought under the Jones Act may be filed in the county where the defendant’s principal Texas office is located, where the plaintiff resided at the time the cause of action accrued, or in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred.

Issuance by a court of a capias, capias pro fine, or an arrest warrant
HB3060 by Peña
Effective September 1, 2007
Capias and capias pro fine warrants are used by courts to compel the payment of fees and fines. HB3060 will:
• clarify that all courts are allowed to issue these warrants
• allow the warrants to be issued in electronic form
• prohibit the incarceration of indigent persons for inability to pay

Public Education

Adding study of the Bible as public school elective course
HB 187 by Chisum
Effective June 15, 2007
HB 187 allows school districts, beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, to offer an elective course for students in grades nine or above on the Bible’s Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) and its impact, the New Testament and its impact, or a course combining the two.
The bill also adds religious literature, including the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the New Testament, and their impact on history and literature to the required enrichment curriculum in public schools.
The purpose of the course is to teach students biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.

Programs and grants for dropout prevention, high school success, and college readiness
HB 2237 by Eissler
Effective June 15, 2007
HB 2237 establishes a variety of pilot projects and grant programs for dropout prevention, high school success, and college readiness.

• Dropout prevention pilot programs include up to $4 million per biennium for a program to fund student club activities for students at risk of dropping out of school, and
• up to $4 million per year for school districts and charter schools to collaborate with local businesses, non-profit and faith-based organizations, or other interested parties to reduce dropouts and increase employment opportunities for students who might otherwise drop out.
• Another pilot program will offer intensive academic instruction during the summer for students at risk of dropping out.
The bill also directs TEA to contract with one or more centers for education research to conduct a study of best practices for dropout prevention and requires school districts and charter schools with high dropout rates to submit to TEA a plan for using the compensatory education and high school allotments for developing and implementing research-based strategies for dropout prevention.

Alternative school placement of students expelled for felonies and registered sex offenders
HB2532 by Patrick
Effective June 15, 2007
Alternative education program placement revisions.
HB 2532 revises the laws governing when students may be sent to alternative educational placements called Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs) and disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEPs).
HB 2532 allows school boards to expel students and place them in either a JJAEP or a DAEP for engaging in any felony offense under Title 5 of the Penal Code, which involves offenses against persons, regardless of where the offense occurred.
• DAEPs were used for students who committed serious off-campus offenses that were not school-related, those who committed violations of the student code of conduct, and those who committed certain other misdemeanor offenses on campus.
• JJAEPs were used for certain students who were expelled from school for serious on-campus or school-related offenses listed in Education Code, sec. 37.007, some of which are Title 5 offenses.
• This applies in the 26 Texas counties with populations greater than 125,000, which are required to work with school districts to establish JJAEPs.
Under HB 2532, a student may be expelled and, under a memorandum of understanding between the school board and the local juvenile board, sent to a JJAEP if the student:
• is charged with engaging in conduct defined as a felony in Title 5, Penal Code, which involves offenses against persons;
• has been referred to a juvenile court for an adjudication hearing after an allegation of committing a Title 5 felony;
• has received probation or deferred adjudication for a Title 5 felony;
• has been convicted of a Title 5 felony; or
• has been arrested for or charged with a Title 5 felony.
In addition, the student’s presence in the regular classroom would have to threaten the safety of other students, be detrimental to the educational process, or not be in the best interest of the district’s students.

Requiring TEA to establish a dual language education pilot program
HB 814 by Eissler
Effective June 15, 2007
HB 814 requires the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to establish a dual language education pilot program to examine dual language education programs and their effect on a student’s ability to graduate from high school. TEA will administer the project, selecting participating school districts that commit to a operating a dual language program for at least three years and giving preference to districts that:
• implement the program at the kindergarten level and demonstrate the potential to expand the program through middle and high school;
• offer at least one language other than English used in the pilot program; and
• demonstrate parent, teacher, and community support for a language immersion program.
TEA will select no more than 10 districts and 30 campuses to participate in the pilot program. The first year of the program must be devoted to planning activities, including hiring and training teachers, establishing parental and community support, and acquiring adequate learning materials in both program languages.

Voluntary expression of religious viewpoints in public schools
HB 3678 by C. Howard
Effective June 8, 2007
HB 3678 requires a school district to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint in the same manner that the district treats a student’s expression of a secular or other viewpoint on a permissible subject. The bill may be cited as the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act or the Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties Act.
School districts must adopt a policy to establish a limited public forum for student speakers at school events in order to:
• provide a forum that does not discriminate against a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint on a permissible subject;
• provide a neutral method for selecting students to speak at school events and graduation ceremonies;
• ensure a student speaker does not engage in obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent speech; and
• provide a disclaimer, in writing or orally, that the students’ remarks do not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position, or expression of the school district.

Random steroid testing in public high schools
SB 8 by Janek
Effective June 15, 2007
SB 8 requires high school students participating in athletic activities sponsored or sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to submit to random testing for steroids.
The UIL must adopt rules to administer the steroid testing program. The rules must:
• require the random testing of a statistically significant number of students to be tested;
• provide for the selection of students through a process that randomly selects from a single pool of students participating in any UIL athletic activity;
• administer the program at about 30 percent of participating high schools;
• provide for a process for confirming any initial positive results through a subsequent test;
• require the testing to be conducted at an approved and certified laboratory; and
• provide for a period of ineligibility for students with confirmed positive results.

Requiring criminal background checks for public school employees
SB 9 by Shapiro
Effective June 15, 2007
SB 9 requires criminal background checks for public school employees and establishes a criminal history clearinghouse within the Department of Public Safety (DPS). A national criminal history record information (CHRI) review will have to be conducted for:
• applicants for or holders of teaching certificates who currently are employed by a school district, charter school, or shared service agreement;
• teachers, librarians, educational aides, administrators, and counselors at charter schools (TEA must approve these applicants for employment);
• non-certified and contract employees for school districts who are hired after January 1, 2008, if the contract employee has or will have continuing duties related to the contract service as well as direct contact with students; and
• substitute teachers.

Increased physical education requirements for public school students
SB 50 by Nelson
Effective June 15, 2007
SB 530 transfers authority for establishing physical education requirements for public school students from the State Board of Education to school districts and sets minimum standards for student physical activity.
• Beginning with the 2007-08 school year, students below sixth grade will have to participate in moderate or vigorous daily physical activity for at least 30 minutes throughout the school year.
• Beginning with the 2008-09 school year, students in grades six through eight must participate in daily physical activity for at least 30 minutes for at least four semesters during those grade levels.

Replacing TAKS with end-of-course exams for graduation
SB 1031 by Shapiro
Effective September 1, 2007
SB 1031 replaces the exit-level and other high school TAKS tests with end-of-course exams, which students will be required to pass in order to graduate from high school. The bill also establishes test security procedures and penalties for those who violate these procedures.
End-of-course exams. To receive a high school diploma, students taking the recommended or advanced high school program will have to perform satisfactorily on end-of-course exams in each of the following subjects:
• English I, II, and III;
• Algebra I and II and geometry;
• biology, chemistry, and physics; and
• world geography, world history, and U.S. history.
Students taking the minimum high school program will have to perform satisfactorily on end-of-course exams only for the courses listed above that are required to complete the program.

Public Employees

Restricting ERS and TRS pension fund investments in Sudan
SB 247 by Ellis
Effective January 1, 2008
SB 247 establishes a “targeted divestment” process by which the Employees Retirement System (ERS) and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) – following a series of notifications outlined in the bill – must sell, redeem, divest, or withdraw, beginning in January 1, 2008, all publicly traded securities of certain “scrutinized businesses” with operations in Sudan.

Increasing TRS contribution rates and issuing a “13th check” for retirees
SB 1846 by Duncan
Effective September 1, 2007
SB 1846 allows the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees to make a one-time supplemental payment, or “13th check,” to eligible TRS annuitants if the pension fund is determined to be “actuarially sound,” meaning that unfunded liabilities can be amortized over a period of 30 years.
• If issuing such a payment would cause the fund to become actuarially unsound, the TRS board may increase the TRS member contribution rate from 6.4 to no more than 6.58 percent of salary. The bill increases the state contribution rate to 6.58 percent of payroll.
• The “13th check” will be the lesser of $2,400 or the amount of the annuitant’s August 2007 gross annuity payment and subject to all applicable tax withholding and other required deductions.

Taxation and revenue

Proportionate reduction in elderly and disabled school tax freeze amount
SJR 1by Averitt/HB 5 by Berman
Approved by voters at the May 12, 2007, election
SJR 13 adds Art. 8, sec. 1-b(d-1) to the Texas Constitution, to specify, for homeowners who are age 65 or older or disabled and receiving a limitation on school property taxes in the 2007 tax year, that the Legislature can reduce the limitation amount to reflect a reduction in the tax rate from tax year 2006. The Legislature also can reduce the limitation amount to reflect a rate reduction that occurred between tax year 2005 and tax year 2006.
Texas Constitution, Art. 8, sec. 1-b(d) freezes the amount of taxes imposed by a school district on the residence homestead of a person who is age 65 or older or disabled. The tax amount may not be increased while the property remains the residence homestead of the person or the person’s spouse. In accordance with that section, the Legislature can provide for the continuation of the limitation amount until the limitation expires.

Entry fee for sexually oriented businesses to fund sexual assault prevention
HB 1751 by Cohen
Effective January 1, 2008
HB 1751 imposes a fee of $5 on each entry by each customer to a sexually oriented business that provides live nude entertainment and allows on-premises consumption of alcoholic beverages. The money generated by the fee, up to $25 million per fiscal biennium, will go into the sexual assault program fund. Money from the sexual assault program fund may be appropriated for state programs and grants to outside organizations to combat sexual violence and provide sexual assault victim assistance.

Correcting and modifying the revised franchise tax
HB 928 by Keffer
Effective January 1, 2008
HB 3928 makes numerous changes to the revised franchise tax created under HB 3 by Keffer (79th Legislature, third called session), which will take effect January 1, 2008.
Small business tax discount. The bill creates a discount on tax liability for small businesses:
• a taxable entity with annual total revenue that is at least $300,000 but less than $400,000 will be eligible for a discount of 80 percent on its tax liability;
• a taxable entity with annual total revenue that is at least $400,000 but less than $500,000 will be eligible for a discount of 60 percent on its tax liability;
• a taxable entity with annual total revenue that is at least $500,000 but less than $700,000 will be eligible for a discount of 40 percent on its tax liability;
• a taxable entity with annual total revenue that is at least $700,000 but less than $900,000 will be eligible for a discount of 20 percent on its tax liability.
Beginning in tax year 2010, these thresholds will be indexed biennially for inflation.


Two-year moratorium and local priority for certain toll road projects, revised standards for CDAs, higher highway bonding capacity
SB 792 by Williams
Mostly effective June 11, 2007
SB 792 establishes a two-year moratorium, with certain exceptions, on all statewide toll projects that involve a private entity operating or collecting revenue on a toll road. The bill creates requirements for comprehensive development agreements (CDAs), including shortening their maximum duration, and new standards for interaction between the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and entities authorized to build toll roads. It authorizes, for all toll projects, TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) to take any action necessary in their reasonable judgment to comply with federal requirements enabling the state to receive funding. SB 792 also adds reporting requirements and oversight for TxDOT.
The moratorium specifically includes any toll project or managed lane facility project on any portion of U.S. Highway 281 in Bexar County, but exempts CDAs in connection with projects:
• in Cameron, El Paso, and Hidalgo counties, unless a toll project adopted by the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) prior to May 1, 2007, meets specific criteria;
• associated with the Trinity Parkway in Dallas;
• including one or more managed-lane facilities added to an existing controlled-access highway, primarily located in a nonattainment or near-nonattainment air quality area for which TxDOT issued a request for qualifications prior to May 1, 2007;
• on any portion of the Loop 9 project in a nonattainment air quality area in Tarrant and Dallas counties;
• on any portion of the State Highway 99 project;
• on certain portions of the proposed Interstate 69 project south of Refugio County;
• on the State Highway 161 project in Dallas County; and
• outside the scope of the Trans Texas Corridor located in the jurisdictions of regional mobility authorities (RMAs) meeting specific criteria.

Three-point seat belts for school buses
HB 323 by Hamilton
Effective September 1, 2007
HB 323 requires that each bus transporting school children be equipped with three-point – lap/shoulder – seat belts for the driver and each passenger. Each school district must require students riding buses equipped with lap/shoulder belts to wear the belts and can create disciplinary procedures to enforce compliance. The requirements apply to all buses purchased by the school district on or after September 1, 2010, and to all school-chartered buses used by a school district on or after September 1, 2011

Statewide standards for use of red-light cameras
SB 1119 by Carona
Effective September 1, 2007
SB 1119 establishes procedures for local entities opting to use cameras to cite owners of vehicles illegally running red lights. It caps civil penalties at $75 and late fees at $25 and requires net proceeds be split between the state and local entity for health and safety programs.

Authorizing $5 billion in general obligation bonds for highway projects
SJR 64 by Carona
Effective if approved by voters at the November 6, 2007, election
SJR 64 would add Texas Constitution, Art. 3, sec. 49-p to allow the Legislature to authorize the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) or its successor to issue state general obligation bonds in a total amount no greater than $5 billion for highway improvement projects.

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