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Legislation prioritizes mental health & justice reform, public safety improvements
Eighty-four new laws, including 35 Senate Bills (SB) authored by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and 49 House Bills (HB) she sponsored during the 2023 legislative session, became effective on Friday, September 1.
The new legislation ranks among 122 bills the senator passed in 2023, bringing her total to 1,388, more bills than passed by any other legislator in the history of the state of Texas.
“I am immensely proud of our work during this legislative session,” Sen. Zaffirini said. “These bills reflect our collaboration and commitment to addressing the diverse needs of our community and striving for positive change.”
A proponent of enhancing public safety and reducing violent crime, Sen. Zaffirini passed SB 49, which allows injured victims of any crime and additional family and household members to apply for relocation benefits and provides greater flexibility for the Attorney General to set adequate relocation and bereavement benefits for crime victims. Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) sponsored it in the House of Representatives.
Her SB 1717, sponsored by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), enhances the Texas stalking statute by broadening the victim’s perception criteria, allowing prosecutors to present evidence of existing or previous relationships between the stalker and the victim, with the goal of better protecting victims and preventing escalation to lethal violence.
Zaffirini also authored and passed SB 1401, requiring health care providers to conduct forensic medical examinations on minor victims of sexual assault, regardless of their arrival time. Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston) sponsored it.
he senator’s SB 1402, sponsored by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), requires law enforcement officers to complete at least eight hours of specialized training about trauma-informed sexual assault investigations.
“While we cannot undo the injustices suffered by survivors of these horrific crimes, we can strive to offer them a sense of justice,” Sen. Zaffirini said. “My hope is that both survivors and their families can discover solace and recovery, and that these laws will serve as a deterrent against future tragedies.”
The senator also sponsored House bills set to become law in September. They include HB 54 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), which will improve the quality of life for nursing home residents receiving Medicaid. Their minimum personal needs allowance from their social security income will be raised from $65 to $80, which will be adjusted biennially for inflation.
Zaffirini and Rep. Vicki Goodwin (D-Austin) passed HB 591, which will help prevent accidental drowning by requiring childcare organizations such as schools and camps to provide US Coast Guard-approved life jackets for children who cannot swim.
“The bill was suggested by Cati DelaPeña’s parents, who lost her far too soon due to her accidental drowning,” Sen. Zaffirini said. “It should help reduce these preventable accidents and fatalities and ensure more thorough water safety procedures for the children of Texas.”
Other new laws taking effect in September include a suite of guardianship reform bills that amend the appointment process for guardians (HB 266 by Rep. Valoree Swanson [R-Spring] and Zaffirini), increase transparency and accountability in the guardianship system and improve the chances of persons under guardianship having their expressed wishes heard and respected (SB 1624 by Zaffirini and Rep. Jeff Leach [R-Plano]), and better preserve the rights of persons with mental health conditions or intellectual and developmental disabilities in the guardianship process (SB 1606, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Leach [R-Plano]).
“As these and other new laws are implemented, I welcome constructive feedback and ideas for additional legislation from residents of Senate District 21,” Sen. Zaffirini said. “Some of my best bills were suggested by constituents.”
Senator Zaffirini’s additional bills effective Sept. 1 are listed below with the names of their sponsors:
• SB 37, clarifying that hazing reports may be made to university officials and law enforcement and clarifying that persons who may receive immunity include corporations and other entities that support student organizations. (Rep. Mary González, sponsor)
• SB 52, requiring the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop guidelines to assist state hospitals in establishing essential caregiver visitation policies and procedures. (Rep. Reggie Smith, sponsor)
• SB 58, prohibiting the practice of malicious bots in connection with the online sale of goods. (Rep. Kronda Thimesch, sponsor)
• SB 812, requiring food establishments to display a standardized food allergies poster and incorporating food allergies as a topic in training and in management certification, preventing serious allergic reactions that could be deadly. (Rep. Philip Cortez, sponsor)
• SB 1639, prohibiting the use of any method, technology, device, or software that bypasses ticketing purchasing processes to purchase a quantity of event tickets that exceeds the maximum number of tickets allowed per legitimate buyer. (Rep. Kronda Thimesch, sponsor)
• HB 162 by Rep. Andrew Murr, ensuring that if a plan lists a certified and insured prescribed burn manager as the burn boss, that person must be present on site during the prescribed burn;
• HB 1211 by Rep. Ryan Guillen, requiring inclusion of licensed specialists in school psychology among the professionals eligible to receive repayment assistance for mental health professional education loans;
• HB 2059 by Rep. Four Price, maximizing the use of funds allocated for the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA);
• HB 3014 by Rep. Caroline Harris, exempting electric vehicles that solely use electricity as their power source from inspection requirements related to emissions and exhaust systems; and
• HB 3125 by Rep. Erin Gamez, allowing the use of flashing white lights by authorized emergency vehicles, ensuring their adherence to state law.
Senator Zaffirini is vice chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development and a member of the Senate Business and Commerce, Finance, Redistricting and State Affairs committees. She also is senate chair of the Eagle Ford Shale Legislative Caucus and a member of the Texas Judicial Council and the Texas Access to Justice Commission. She has cast 72,028 consecutive votes since 1987. She also has a 100-percent perfect attendance in the Texas Senate, except for breaking quorum deliberately to prevent an untimely re-redistricting that the US Supreme Court ruled in 2006 violated the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchised voters in SD 21.