Top 10 bills to follow in Texas session

AUSTIN (KXAN) — By Monday, Texas lawmakers had filed 326 pieces of legislation just weeks ahead of the 83rd legislative session. Set to begin Jan. 8, some lawmakers believe a low number on their bills sets the agenda of the coming months and gives them an extra advantage -- that other members might think a lot of time and effort went into their drafting.

However, only about a quarter of the bills filed before the March 8 deadline will actually pass. Last year, just 1,379 of the 5,796 filed made it through. Facing a multi billion-dollar deficit for big budget issues like Medicaid funding and money for public schools, a slew of other bills will likely make headlines:

#1. Drug Testing for Welfare – SB 11

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is targeting the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – better known as the welfare system. Senate Bill 11 would require drug testing for high-risk applicants in an effort to keep the money from being used to buy alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Both Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have shown strong support of the legislation, which also aims to enhance job-training requirements.

#2. Texting While Driving Ban – HB 63

Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, is taking another swing at a bill to ban texting while driving statewide. Last session, the legislature passed a similar bill, but Perry vetoed it.

Perry said the practice is “reckless and irresponsible,” but the bill was “a government effort to micro-manage the behavior of adults.”

Several cities including Austin already have such bans. If passed, Texas would joins 39 other states along with Washington, D.C. in curbing the dangerous behavior.

Craddick’s new bill – House Bill 63 – makes exceptions for dialing a number and using GPS or hands-free devices.

#3. Tuition Freeze – HB 29

Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, wants state universities to set a four-year fixed tuition rate in an effort to make students graduate on time. Perry has also shown strong support for such an action.

Under House Bill 29, each incoming class – including transfer students – would pay the same tuition for four years, though each freshman class could see a rate change as they enter the university.

The University of Texas in Austin currently freezes tuition for two years. President Bill Powers has seemed open to discussions about the matter.

Tuition rates statewide have increased by 55 percent in the last decade since the legislature deregulated them. During that time, state funding for higher education has gone down.

#4. Casinos and Slots – SJR 6

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said voters should be able to decide whether the state should have a Texas Gaming Commission – an oversight for a limited number of casinos. It would also pave the way for video slot machines and lottery games at horse and greyhound racetracks and Indian tribal lands.

Senate Joint Resolution 6 aims to raise money through gambling for property tax relief and financing for higher education. Ellis has filed similar proposals in the past. If passed, Texans would have to consider a constitutional amendment to allow for the change.

Over the last decade, such legislation has found strong political opposition from various conservative and religious groups. Other business groups and also neighboring states with casinos have criticized the idea.

Now the proposed legislation is finding new foes by groups against horse and dog racing – an industry that has struggled in recent years. However, the concept includes providing enough revenue to make the sports more competitive for the state.

#5. Cremation Waiver – SB 68

Nelson also wants to speed up the times it takes for cremation in the state. Based on respect for the grieving, Senate Bill 68 would allow doctors to waive the 48-hour waiting period.

"This bill protects religious freedoms and eliminates unnecessary red tape for grieving families who wish to mourn in accordance with their beliefs,” Nelson said.

#6. Ten Commandments in Classrooms – HB 51

Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, filed House Bill 51 to allow schools to display the Ten Commandments in “prominent” locations in classrooms. Under the legislation, school board members could not prevent teachers from posting the document.

Last session, Flynn filed a similar bill that failed. If the current bill passes, it would take effect in the 2013-2014 school year. Based on historical teaching and curbing a discipline problem, his bill could face strong opposition due to fear of lawsuits.

#7. Sex Offender Facebook – HB 23

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, wants to make sex offenders tell Facebook users who they really are. House Bill 23 is similar to a new law in Louisiana.

It would require those using social networking sites to post that they are a sex offender, what their crime was, where it took place, and if there were convicted. They must also disclose their full name, birth date, sex, race, height, weight, eye color, hair color and address.

#8. Full-day Pre-Kindergarten

Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, want to make sure eligible 4-year-olds have the chance to go to school for full-day voluntary pre-kindergarten. House Bill 96 would restore funds cut in the last session.

The state school finance system currently pays for half-day pre-K, so many school districts are unable to afford a full-day program. Villarreal points to research showing pre-K enrollees have higher social and academic outcomes in the future.

Children are eligible for public school pre-K if they do not speak English, come from low-income families, are part of the foster care system, or have parents on active military duty.

#9. TSA Anti-groping – HB 80

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, is reviving his failed proposal from last session – a measure commonly known as the Transportation Security Administration anti-groping bill.

The previous legislation passed in the House but did not in the Senate. Now House Bill 80 – the Texas Travel Freedom Act – would make it a criminal act to intentionally touch “the anus, breast, buttocks, or sexual organ of the other person, including through clothing,” without probable cause when it comes to public transportation agents. The act also includes additional protection for minors.

Simpson filed the bill in response to the federal government’s “intrusive” searches at places like airports, saying it is privacy concern. Last session, a justice department letter was delivered to senators shortly before the bill died.

Perry added the bill to the special session agenda, though it once again failed in the final days.

#10. Open Carry

Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, could soon file legislation to let Texans carry handguns where people can see them. Currently, people can only carry them hidden in places like a coat or purse – if they have a concealed handgun license.

Lavender has indicated he will filed an “open carry” bill, which would give those 500,000 license holders to option of carrying holstered handguns out in the open. Texas is one of just six states with such a limitation. The latest to pass an open-carry law was Oklahoma, effective Nov. 1.

Critics have said such a move could threaten public safety. He pushed a similar bill last session, but it never gained a Senate sponsor and died in committee.

His new proposal will likely allow businesses and property owners to post signs prohibiting firearms, which is similar to the current rule. State law also forbids carrying a gun into a college campus building.

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On drug testing, I agree and will support it when every politician across the nation takes this same drug screening first! Forcing dictates onto others without going through the same procedures is like lining up sour grapes end-to-end. You still have sour grapes. On texting while driving, allow police wide latitude to effect this killer law. On tuition's - re-regulate! On casinos and slots - Let the people decide. Sadly gambling money goes to other states. It should be kept here at home! Cremation waivers should be a family matter, not doctors, lawyers or politician's decisions. God, first, the law next,(if applicable) families next and politicians dead last.(get it?) The Ten Commandments is a religious document/decree and should not be in public schools for that same reason. If anyone wants a religious teaching - go to church! Again, politicians dead last.(same as above) On sex offender Facebook - It is very easy to fake ID's today, how will enforcement be handled? Again, politicians dead last. This is all political posturing.(same as above) Full-day Pre-kindergarten is a mute point - Education in any form is beneficial to everyone in Texas. Git 'R done! TSA Anti-groping bill - Rep. David Simpson is again barking up the wrong tree, antagonizing the federal government and in dire need of a rectal-encephalo-ectomy. That's my stand! Open Carry and Rep. George Lavender is another way to pander to the fringe extremist. Openly carrying a gun is an invitation for another to shoot him first and then carry out the misdeed intended. Childish pandering and wasteful spending, along with time consumption by state legislator

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