The first week of pre-filing for the 83rd Legislative Session is over, and there are already a number of high-profile bills in the works. After skimming the headlines and the already lengthy lists of House and Senate bills, here – in no particular order – are a few interesting or important ones I’m following. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m on the fence about most of them.
Drug testing for welfare recipients. Safety nets are there to catch people – temporarily. In Texas, we value self-sufficiency and design welfare programs to help those in unfortunate circumstances get back on their feet. Refusing benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (which can be used to pay for just about anything) to drug users is certainly a reasonable concept. First, it ensures taxpayer dollars are not used for illegal drugs. Second, it discourages behavior that will prevent people from becoming self-sufficient.
As with most legislative issues, this one is all about the money. The Dallas Morning News notes that Florida’s drug testing program cost more than it saved in denied benefits. This doesn’t take into account the Floridians who may not have applied because they knew they would fail the test, but it’s definitely worth considering. If Texas implements a similar policy, funding needs to be weighed carefully.
Repealing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. I’ve written in support of in-state tuition before. I’ve always said it’s a policy I can live with, but not necessarily something I would advocate.
Honestly, I’m not sure where I stand this time. It’s a difficult ethical issue. Of course we want children who were brought here illegally through no fault of their own to become productive Americans. At the same time, we don’t want to incentivize illegal immigration. The bill to provide in-state tuition to certain illegal immigrants passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. It will be interesting to see if the tables turn in 2013.
Prohibiting abortion-inducing drugs. If it isn’t already, Texas is well on its way to becoming the most pro-life state in the nation. (What can I say? We like being the best.) Once again, Senator Dan Patrick is leading the charge with this bill further limiting medical abortions.
Sales tax breaks for college textbooks. Among Senator Zaffirini’s 30-plus bills is one college students would love, making the textbook-buying process just a little less painful. She’s filed similar bills at least twice before, but they were lost among more pressing issues.
The bill has a few gaping holes, though. The exemption only lasts for two weeks each semester. This not only penalizes
lazy bums students who purchase their books late, but also those who choose to get their books early so they can get a sense of what their classes will be like and arrange them several times on their bookshelf in alphabetical order, then height order, then class order. (Not that I’ve done this…) It also doesn’t apply to textbook rentals.
“Climate adaptation plans” for state agencies. Senator Rodney Ellis wants 11 state agencies to create new coalitions to address global warming.
Really. Because there aren’t any more pressing issues to discuss.
Protecting job applicants’ social media privacy. I don’t often promote Democrats’ bills, but I firmly believe Senator Chuy Hinojosa is on the right track with this bill, which would prohibit employers from accessing job applicants’ or employees’ social network accounts. It’s the 21st-century equivalent of demanding to read someone’s private emails or mail (something I hope most people would find outrageous).
Facebook, Twitter, Google+, et al have privacy settings for a reason. Facebook’s own policies state that users should not give out their passwords under any circumstances. It’s perfectly reasonable for employers to access public social media information, but demanding to see private content is not only intrusive, it could reveal information such as religion, political affiliation, or relationship status that could improperly influence hiring decisions.
Texting and driving. It’s baaaaack! It’s hard to tell people you’re against banning texting and driving. “But what about all the lives that could be saved?” they ask. And while it’s true that texting and driving is a really stupid thing to do, I don’t think the state should criminalize it for two reasons. One, the law already addresses distracted driving in general. Two, it’s almost unenforceable without serious privacy violations. Police officers could pull someone over for something as subtle as looking down or a glow from a screen at night. Without going through the person’s text messages – actually, all their apps – it would be next to impossible to know whether the person was actually texting or just typing in a phone number, adjusting their GPS, or checking the time, if they were using their phone at all.
If cities and towns want to ban texting and driving, that’s up to them. Several already have. But, in Governor Perry’s words, Texas should not micromanage competent adults’ behavior.SB 28, Zaffirini / HB 27, Martinez Fischer / HB 41, Menendez / HB 63, Craddick / HB 69, Lucio / HB 108, Harless
Combining driver’s licenses and concealed handgun licenses. This bill would allow CHL holders to opt for a special driver’s license rather than a separate CHL card. I definitely understand the concept of making the licensing process more efficient (and making it easier on licensees). Folks over at the Texas CHL Forum have expressed concern over privacy, but I think the idea has merit, particularly since it’s optional.
High school courses on the Constitution. This one’s a no-brainer. Students need to understand our country’s foundation and system of government, and your average high school history course doesn’t cut it. (Trust me, I know. Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney got far more coverage in my AP U.S. History book than the Declaration of Independence.)
And at least one yet to be filed: Concealed carry on campus. With Senator Jeff Wentworth defeated by my very favorite incoming legislator, Dr. Donna Campbell, it’s unclear who will author the Senate bill. Either way, you can be sure this issue will come up this session.
What bills are you following?