The 82nd Legislature

Despite one of the most difficult legislative sessions in Texas history, state Senator José Rodríguez ended his first legislative session with the passage of 41 measures, including:

•Requiring a feasibility study for establishing a dental school as part of the Texas Tech University Health Science Center in El Paso [SB 1020 ] and allowing the El Paso County Hospital District to directly employ doctors [SB 860], both measures intended to increase the availability of health care professionals;

•Authorizing the El Paso Electric Co. to offer solar energy to its customers [SB 1910];

•Providing for the prosecution of employers who intentionally fail to pay wages owed to their workers [SB 1024]; and, several measures promoting more ethics and transparency in government.

[Click here to see all 99 bills authored and co-authored by Senator Rodríguez]

Although Sen. Rodríguez was successful in passing numerous pieces of legislation and worked hard on behalf of the people of El Paso, he was disappointed by the tone of the session, and opposed budget cuts that hurt working people and burdened local governments.

“It is unfortunate that some in the leadership chose to shirk their responsibility to help those who are counting on their help the most. Moreover, this budget does, in fact, pass the buck to local governments, many of whom will be forced to raise taxes in order to maintain the current levels of service,” he said.

“Texans deserve better than funding cuts to our classrooms and accounting trickery which shifts the burden to local governments. Leaders in our Capitol owe it to the people of this state to do better.”

The state budget cut roughly $18 billion, about $4 billion of which would have gone to public education. Billions more were cut in health care and legal services for those in need, while roughly $6.5 billion of surplus tax revenue from prior years, known as the state Rainy Day Fund, sits unused.

Senator Rodríguez passed the following pieces of legislation:

Health Care

  • Employment: The bill allows the El Paso County Hospital District to directly employ physicians and dentists, with the goal of decreasing the region’s health care shortage. [Senate Bill 860*]
  • Dental school: Requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to study the feasibility of establishing a dental school in El Paso; currently, El Paso County has 28 dentists per 100,000 residents, falling far short of the state average of 45 per 100,000. [SB 1020]
  • Medical licensing: Allows international medical graduates to apply for and receive a medical license after completing two full years of residency training instead of three years.** [SB 860]
  • Social work licensing: Allows an individual who holds a Master’s or Baccalaureate degree from a social work program in candidacy for accreditation to be eligible to take the social work licensure exam. This will help to ensure that social work degree holders can sit for the exam and enter the workforce as licensed social workers if they prove competency through the licensure exam process. [House Bill 1797]

Education

  • Speech-language licensing: Changes the educational standards for licensure for speech-language pathologists or audiologists from a Master’s degree in communicative disorders to a Doctoral degree in audiology if the program is accredited by a national accrediting organization approved by the board. This bill allows current audiologists who have Master’s level degree to continue to practice. [Senate Bill 613]
  • Online GED: Requires the State Board of Education to develop rules and procedures to administer the General Education Equivalency (GED) exam online, including procedures to verify the identity of the test-taker. [Senate Bill 1094]
  • School district consolidation: Requires school districts in El Paso County to meet to discuss consolidating their law enforcement and security personnel in order to determine whether any cost savings could be realized if consolidated. [House Bill 1254*]
  • Parenting classes: Increases the maximum number of hours that parents may be away from their child from 12 to 15 hours a week to attend child parenting classes so that parents may satisfy the Texas Education Agency’s program requirement of 60-65 hours of instruction per month. This bill will only affect programs in El Paso, including Avance. [House Bill 3051*]

Renewable Energy, Environment,and Quality of Life

  • Solar energy: Gives El Paso Electric Company (EPEC) residential and small business customers with solar equipment the option to interconnect with the electric utility through a single meter that runs both forward and backward and promotes the marketing of solar energy. [Senate Bill 1910*]
  • Regional park: Allows voters to decide to amend the Texas Constitution to create a regional park district in El Paso County. [Senate Joint Resolution 28*]
  • Castner Range: Expresses the Texas Senate’s support for the conservation of the Castner Range. [Senate Resolution 506*]
  • Drainage fee: Brings the housing authority in line with the other governmental entities in El Paso County and exempts the Housing Authority of the City of El Paso from the drainage fee. [Senate Bill 609*]
  • Registration required: Allows the City of El Paso’s Housing Authority to require its residents to register their vehicles to better secure the Housing Authority’s properties and ensure the availability of parking spaces for residents. [House Bill 1371*]
  • Historic highway: Designates State Highway 20 as a historic highway; In addition to sponsoring the House version of the bill.** [House Bill 1866*]

Jobs and the Economy

  • Wage enforcement: Addresses non-payment of wages when workers only receive periodic or partial payment for work performed. This is a problem that greatly impacts many workers in the construction industry and day laborers. [Senate Bill 1024]
  • Fort Bliss sales tax: Allows the City of El Paso to receive a portion of the sales tax revenue collected at Ft. Bliss’ Freedom Crossing shopping center and other retail businesses on the base.** [House Bill 205*]
  • Financial literacy: Requires the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (OCCC) to compile information about financial literacy into a one-page document and post that document on the office’s website, which will help educate more Texans on money management and how to raise their credit score, deter bankruptcy, plan for the future, and contribute successfully to the Texas economy. [House Bill 2615]
  • Monticello Management District: Creates the Monticello Municipal Management District No. 1 in El Paso to promote housing and economic development.** [House Bill 3831*]

Ethics and Government Transparency

  • Public information: Clarifies that an Attorney General request is not necessary to redact driver’s license numbers and credit card numbers from responses to public information act requests. [Senate Bill 602*]
  • School trustee finance reports: Requires school district board of trustees campaign finance reports to be posted on the internet.** [House Bill 336]
  • County Ethics Commission: Updates requirements for El Paso’s county ethics commission, including staggering the terms of commissioners’ terms and clarifying “whistleblower” provisions.** [House Bill 2002]
  • Hospital district board appointments: Prohibits the appointment of a person to the El Paso Hospital District board of hospital managers who is an employee of El Paso County, a hospital district employee, or related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity to a member of the commissioners court.** [House Bill 3462*]

Public Safety, Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, and the Courts

  • Hospital police: Allows the El Paso County Hospital District to hire peace officers. [Senate Bill 601*]
  • Warrant execution: Allows jailers to execute warrants, thereby increasing efficiency and saving constables time and money. [Senate Bill 604*]
  • Appellate court: Creates an appellate judicial system for the Eighth Court of Appeals District, which is based in El Paso. [Senate Bill 605*]
  • Jury service: Ensures the availability of an individual to address jury service postponement requests in El Paso County, streamlining the administration of jury duty. [Senate Bill 1195*]
  • Guardianships: Reforms sections of the Texas Probate Code to update the law regarding guardianships for those with physical disabilities. [Senate Bill 1196]
  • Trusts: Updates sections of the Texas Property Code that deal with trusts. [Senate Bill 1197]
  • Estates: Makes modifications to the Texas Probate Code to modernize the law concerning decedents’ estates. [Senate Bill 1198]
  • Missing children: Clarifies the definition of “missing child” to include those instances when a child may be with a parent but whose whereabouts are unknown and cannot be ascertained after reasonable inquiries and investigation by law enforcement. Also makes it a state crime to remove a child from the United States or retain a child outside the United States with the intent to obstruct a parent’s custodial rights, or to attempt to do so. This is patterned after the federal International Parental Kidnapping Act. During the legislative process, an amendment was added to child injury cases may be prosecuted in a county, where an element of the offense occurred, where the defendant is apprehended, where the victim resides, or where the defendant resides. [Senate Bill 1551]
  • Legal representation: Ensures that in cases involving a parent-child relationship, a person who has an appointed lawyer is presumed to remain indigent until there is a material and substantial change in the person’s financial circumstances, and that the appointed lawyer remains on the case until the suit is dismissed, all appeals are exhausted or waived, or until the court allows the lawyer to withdraw based on good cause. [House Bill 906]
  • Process service: Streamlines the return of service process by requiring a process server to sign the return of service under penalty of perjury rather than requiring verification by a notary public. This will reduce time and cost to litigants. [House Bill 962]
  • Animal welfare: Standardizes the procedures for appeals in cases of cruelly treated animals, as well as helps ensure that costs incurred by the government agency or non-profit animal welfare organization in taking care of the animals during the litigation process will be paid by the those charge with the cruel treatment of animals. [House Bill 963*]
  • Crime reporting: Makes the reporting of misdemeanors to the National Criminal Information Center discretionary instead of mandatory, which will aid local law enforcement. The reporting of felonies will still be required. [House Bill 2472*]
  • Commitment proceedings: Clarifies state law regarding the role of local prosecutors in legal proceedings involving people involuntarily committed to a state hospital or mental health facility. It also makes the state a party to all legal proceedings resulting from a patient suing state hospitals or physicians for being held without any legal justification. [House Bill 3342]
  • Custodial rights: Clarifies the definition of “missing child” to include those instances when a child may be with a parent but whose whereabouts are unknown and cannot be ascertained after reasonable inquiries and investigation by law enforcement. Also, makes it a state crime to remove a child from the United States or retain a child outside the country with the intent to obstruct a parent’s custodial rights or to attempt to do so. [House Bill 3439]

Military

  • Military justice: Updates the Texas Code of Military Justice to comply with changes to federal military law.** [House Bill 2417]
  • Driver’s program: Defers payment of certain Texas Driver’s Responsibility Program surcharges for up to three years for members of the military who are on active duty overseas. [House Bill 2851]

Other Pieces of Legislation

  • Water district voting: Brings El Paso’s Water Improvement District in line with the majority of other irrigation districts in Texas concerning voter eligibility requirements. [Senate Bill 832*]
  • Life insurance claim: Requires funeral establishments to include the retail price of filing a life insurance claim on behalf of the beneficiaries. [Senate Bill 864]
  • Cell phone use while driving: Exempts cities with bans prohibiting cell phone use while driving from being required to post signs in school zones.** House Bill 1899*

* Bills affecting the City of El Paso and/or El Paso County
** Rodriguez authored the Senate companion of the House Bill in addition to passing the House Bill in the Senate.