June 22, 2009

From the desk of Allen Vaught

Legislation Passed in the 81st Legislative Session
The 81st legislative session has drawn to a close. The Governor had until June 21, 20 days after final adjournment, to sign, veto, or allow a bill to become law without his signature. The House and Senate sent 1,459 bills to the Governor. This is the third article in a series about legislation signed by the Governor into law.

Deaf and Blind Services
Adults with the multiple disabilities of deafness and blindness are currently offered a full-service program to meet the person’s specific needs. However, children with the same disabilities are not afforded the same home and community service until they reach age 18, despite the critical need for early intervention. The lack of similar specialized services can create significant difficulties in acquiring educational, vocational, and social skills. Senate Bill 37 opens up the eligibility for services under the deaf-blind with multiple disabilities waiver program at the time of the child’s diagnosis, rather than the age of 18. Adding children to this program provides assistance during child development and reduces hurdles by creating a path for more opportunities.

Survivors of Public Servants Killed in Action
In 1993, the legislature honored the lives and the sacrifice made by public servants killed in the line of duty. The legislature provided the officer’s family some financial assistance with the opportunity to continue purchasing health insurance from the deceased officer’s department. However, previous implementation of the policy varied by department. Some family members were not only required to pay their premiums but the state’s as well. Other families were required to pay the family rate premium that included the cost of two adults in a family plan, when there was only one. Senate Bill 872 clarifies the intent of the original legislation and adopts a uniform healthcare policy for eligible survivors of certain law enforcement officers, fire fighters, or other public servants killed in the line of duty. The adopted change will increase access to affordable health insurance for survivors of a loved one that has made the ultimate sacrifice for their community in the line of duty.

Marriage Ceremony
Currently an officer of a religious organization, a justice of the peace, and almost all federal, state, and county judges have the authority to conduct wedding ceremonies. With the passage of Senate Bill 935, city municipal judges will have that authority as well. For 164 years, couples have headed to the courthouse for their wedding, but now they will be able to go down to City Hall. Couples in smaller municipalities and less populated areas often have difficulty finding an authorized person to perform their ceremony, but with the passage of this bill, their options will expand.

Fall Prevention Awareness
Legislative findings conclude that in 2008, over one million older Texans were expected to sustain falls, with their risk increasing as they age; however, research shows that prevention programs can reduce the incidence of falls by 30-50 percent. House Bill 703 creates a “Fall Prevention Awareness Week” that will take place each year beginning on the first Sunday after the autumnal equinox. The Department of Aging and Disability Services is tasked with developing a program to raise public awareness, educate older adults and caretakers, create fall prevention guidelines, and develop a system for reporting falls to improve available information.

The next article will continue to highlight some major legislation which has passed during the 2009 legislative session.

As always, please feel free to contact my district office at (214) 370-8305 or my capitol office at (512) 463-0244 if you have any questions regarding state matters. I look forward to hearing from you.