Sen. José Rodríguez files education, health, equality, and reform bills
Austin – Texas State Sen. José Rodríguez filed 14 bills today, the first day that legislators can pre-file bills in preparation for the 85th Texas Legislature, which commences January 10, 2017.
“I filed these bills today to highlight priority areas in education, health care, and other vital issues facing Texas,” Sen. Rodríguez said. “Now, more than ever, Texans deserve a legislature that works hard to address the needs of our state. Every one of these proposals was suggested by Texans, who want to increase our opportunities, support equality, protect our rights, and establish government accountability.”
The bills filed today ensure special education students’ rights are protected and appropriate funding for English Language Learner students; promote women’s access to health care, including a sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products; same day registration during early voting; promote equality for LGBTQ Texans; address transparency and accountability for border security funding; and reform the state’s marijuana laws. Details and Senate bill numbers below:
- Senate Bill 160 (prohibition of special education cap):Since this summer, theHouston Chronicle has been reporting on the impact of a Texas Education Agency policy, implemented as part of its school district monitoring system, which set an 8.5 percent target for the total number of children receiving special education services. According to the reporting, the policy effectively served as a cap, perhaps drastically lowering the number students receiving special education services. S.B. 160 would prohibit the TEA from implementing arbitrary targets that keep special education students from accessing learning opportunities, while still preserving TEA’s authority to collect information on special education enrollment.
“This is about the civil rights of vulnerable children. Under federal law, every student is entitled to a free appropriate public education. Special education supports help children enjoy the same success in learning as their peers, and go on to apply their education toward productive lives,” Rodríguez said. “Just as important, parents have a right to have their child evaluated for services, and to have a place at the table when schools design appropriate accommodations. This cap disincentives schools from following the law, forcing parents to fight a one-sided battle to secure their children’s educational rights.”
- Senate Bill 161 (increasing funding for English Language Learners): S.B. 161would increase the ELL education funding weight from the current weight of 0.1 to 0.25. This funding weight has not been updated since 1984. Updating it would alleviate achievement gaps, expand dual language programs, reduce recapture payments, and help the almost one million students that need additional services.
“The investment in our students is an investment in our future,” Rodríguez said, regarding funding weights. “This is long overdue.”
- Senate Bill 162 (sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products):The Texas Tax Code provides a variety of sales tax exemptions on items considered “necessary” to life, such as medicine or grocery items. Menstruation is not a choice, but rather a monthly bodily function. Women should not have to pay a tax on a product that helps them remain clean, comfortable, and free from infection, particularly when they are required to purchase such items for four or five decades. As there is no male product equivalent, the general sales tax on these items unfairly penalizes women. Women and girls who cannot afford these products suffer greatly from missing class, work, or important life events to being forced to improvise with other items, thereby risking infection. S.B. 162 would amend §151.313 of the Tax Code to add feminine hygiene products to the list of currently exempted health care-related items.
“This is a health issue, a tax relief issue, and a fairness issue, as it’s a tax that unfairly targets women, and is solely borne by women,” said Rodríguez, “We should ensure all Texans have affordable access to basic health care products.”
- Senate Bill 163 (CHIP contraceptive benefit):Existing barriers in the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Healthy Texas Women are preventing teenagers from accessing basic reproductive health care services, including access to contraception. Additionally, Medicaid costs typically comprise the largest portion of the supplemental appropriations bill at the beginning of every session. S.B. 163 would allow teenagers enrolled in CHIP to access reproductive health care services so long as her parent or guardian consents. Improving access to contraception will reduce the state’s Medicaid costs.
- Senate Bill 164 (minor consent for postpartum care and contraception): Although a teenage mother is allowed to consent for her child, current state law does not allow a teenage mother to legally consent to medical procedures or treatment for herself after giving birth. S.B. 164 would allow a teenage mother to consent for postpartum care as well as contraception.
“This legislation gives young mothers a voice and allows them to make health care decisions that are best for their families and their economic success, while potentially saving Texas additional Medicaid costs,” said Rodríguez.
Equal rights for LGBTQ Texans
- Senate Joint Resolution 16 (repeal of the state’s unconstitutional ban on same-sex marriage):S.J.R. 16 by Sen. Rodríguez and joint authored by Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Sylvia Garcia, and John Whitmire proposes a constitutional amendment that would repeal the existing same-sex marriage ban in the Texas Constitution.
“Last year’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision was a milestone moment in the civil rights history of our country, recognizing that denying any person the right to participate in an institution as fundamental to American life as marriage is contrary to our nation’s values,” Rodríguez said. “Marriage equality is now the law of the land, and it’s time our state constitution and laws reflect that.”
In addition to S.J.R. 16, Sen. Rodriguez also expects to file legislation intended to update several sections of Texas law, principally in the Family Code, which are now outdated post-Obergefell. This cleanup legislation is included in the State Bar of Texas’s legislative agenda.
- Senate Bill 165 (comprehensive non-discrimination bill): The bill prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of housing, public accommodation, employment, and state contracting.
“Gay and trans folks have the same values as anyone: to be secure in their livelihoods and to live a life of purpose, free from discrimination. An inclusive Texas is critical to recruiting top talent, attracting business, and maintaining a strong tourism industry,” Rodríguez said. “This session, we must also be mindful of lawmakers’ attempts to authorize discrimination, or even repeal the handful of local non-discrimination ordinances and policies that we do have in Texas. We simply can’t afford discriminatory legislation of the kind that only brought ridicule to other states.”
- Senate Bill 166 (repeal of state’s unconstitutional homosexual conduct prohibition): Penal Code Section 21.06 still lists “homosexual conduct” as a misdemeanor crime, even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in its 2003 Lawrence v. Texasdecision. It makes no sense to have an unconstitutional law that cannot be enforced on the books. This is the third session that Rodríguez has filed this legislation.
“In spite of all the progress the LGBTQ community has made, and more than a decade after Lawrence, our Texas law says it’s a crime to be gay. Although unenforceable, this hurtful law remains on the books, forever memorializing discrimination, and potentially serving as a source of misinformation for local police. It’s time for it to go,” Rodríguez said.
- SB 167 Same day registration during early voting: This legislation will allow eligible Texas voters to register to vote during the early voting period of elections.
“Texas continues to lag behind in voter turnout and our electoral system needs reforms,” Rodríguez said.
Border security and witness/victim protection
- Senate Bill 168 (DPS accountability): This legislation would require additional training for state law enforcement officers in the border region, provide for an ombudsman to address complaints, and require the Department of Public Safety to develop metrics for measuring the success of DPS’ border surge.
- Senate Bill 169 (crime victim and witness protection): This legislation would increase public safety by prohibiting law enforcement to inquire into the immigration status of witnesses and victims of crimes.
“It’s crucial we hold DPS accountable for how it is using the nearly $1 billion dollars taxpayers are spending on militarizing the border,” Rodríguez said. “Don’t lawmakers in a fiscally conservative legislature want to make sure we’re getting a return on investment that can be measured using data, instead of politics?” Regarding witness protection, Rodríguez said, “To stop criminal activity, all members of the community must feel safe to call 911.”
- Senate Bill 170 (civil penalties): State penal statutes regarding the possession of small amounts of marijuana are antiquated and costly. The state expends millions prosecuting and incarcerating these non-violent drug offenders. In addition, those convicted often suffer collateral, disproportionate consequences, such as an inability to access certain benefits, like student financial aid or public housing assistance, because they were caught with small amounts of marijuana. S.B. 170 would change possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one.
- Senate Joint Resolution 17:S.J.R. 17 would allow voters to decide whether marijuana should be legalized in Texas, following the pattern of a number of states. After last week’s election, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
- Senate Joint Resolution 18: S.J.R. 18 would allow voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use if recommended by a health care provider. A total of 28 states have comprehensive medical marijuana laws and several others have authorized medical use in limited settings.
“It is long past time we allow the people to decide,” Rodríguez said of the ballot initiatives. “Polling indicates majorities in favor of both proposals, and it goes against the state’s democratic values and faith in its people to deny them a chance to vote on the matter.”
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Education; Health and Human Services; Veteran Affairs and Military Installations; Nominations; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs.