FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 14, 2011
Here at the Capitol it is spring outside, and flowers are beginning to bloom. Inside of the Capitol it is a different story as bills begin to wilt and die. With less than 50 days left in the session, almost every bill that has not had a hearing at this point will not pass. As we near the last six weeks of session, members are pushing their bills and there is a lot of activity in the Capitol.
Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:
1. Making sure Texas gets its share of taxpayer money for education
Texas actually received some good news from the federal government when a budget deal was reached. Texas will now receive $830 million more in education funds from Washington. Previously, the state was denied its fair share of funds because Congressman Lloyd Doggett put restrictions on the money designated for Texas despite the fact that no other state faced such limitations. As a part of budget negotiations between Congressional Republicans and Democrats, Texas will now receive the funds that were previously denied.
2. Strengthening private property rights
The House passed Senate Bill 18 which significantly limits when governments may use eminent domain. Eminent domain is the practice of taking private land for a public purpose. The bill requires land only be taken for public use and cannot be used for private development. It also helps guarantee in the limited cases when government may take private land that owners are fairly compensated. Under both the House and Senate versions of the bill, the original landowners may have the option to buy back property if not used by the state in a specified time. Differences in the House and Senate versions must be worked out before sending the bill to Gov. Rick Perry for final approval.
3. Pushing back against drug cartels
The Senate on Monday voted in favor of a bill to strengthen law enforcement's ability to battle the illegal drug trade. As violence in northern Mexico increases, lawmakers on this side of the border are searching for more things the state of Texas can do to hinder drug cartels. Senate Bill 1701, would give law enforcement more latitude in seizing the assets of drug dealers. While state law permits a judge to order the seizure of property related to illicit drugs, drug dealers try and get around this by disguising those assets. Under this bill, if an asset to be seized cannot be located then a judge may order the seizure of property that is of the same or lesser value.
4. Working to prevent Medicaid fraud
On Monday, the Senate passed my bill to help crack down on Medicaid fraud which cost the state at least $71 million last year. Working with the Attorney General's office to develop strategies to improve Medicaid fraud enforcement, I filed SB 688. The bill extends the statute of limitations to prosecute fraud, allows Medicaid fraud to be classified as organized crime, increases penalties, and develops ways to better track offenders. When criminals steal from the Medicaid system they are stealing from every Texas taxpayer. The bill now heads to the House for additional approval.
5. Reorganizing and reforming the Texas Youth Commission
The state agency charged with incarcerating juvenile offenders would undergo dramatic changes under a bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday. The Texas Youth Commission would be merged with the Juvenile Probation Commission to create the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The new agency would look at treatment and probation options before recommending incarceration.