Senator Nelson Pre-Files First Bills of 85th Legislative Session Senator Jane Nelson filed 11 bills on the first day to pre-file legislation for the 85th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, which begins on January 10, 2017 and concludes on June 1, 2017.  "My primary goal this session is to pass a conservative budget that protects vulnerable children and maintains our commitment to education, transportation and other important priorities," Senator Nelson, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said. "My legislative package will stop abuse of taxpayer dollars, establish a framework for continued franchise tax relief, protect Texans from sex offenders and domestic abusers and make government work more efficiently. I am also addressing local issues brought to my attention by constituents."  Lawmakers may file legislation today through March 10, 2017. The following is an overview of legislation pre-filed today by Senator Nelson:  Franchise Tax ReliefSB 72 reduces the franchise tax rate 2.5% per year as long as the Comptroller certifies there are available funds over the Biennial Revenue Estimate. "Texas must keep building an economic environment in which businesses can succeed, but we must balance that with the state's ability to meet our needs. This legislation brings us closer to our goal of abolishing the franchise tax using a step-down approach that is tied to available revenue."  Emergency LeaveSB 73 requires agencies to establish clear policies on emergency leave and to post those policies online. The bill limits the discretion of an agency head to only grant emergency leave to employees they believe will return after that leave period and report any employees who were granted more than 32 hours of emergency leave to the comptroller. "This bill will prevent abuses of emergency leave policies at our state agencies," Senator Nelson said. "We must ensure that emergency leave is reserved for actual emergencies and that taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly."  High Needs Mental Health AccessThe goal of SB 74 is to increase the state's capacity to help foster and low-income children with acute mental health needs by streamlining credential requirements for behavioral health providers. Specifically, it simplifies credentialing for providers of targeted case management and rehabilitative services. "We have a serious need, especially in the foster system, to serve children with high mental health needs. By streamlining the credentialing process, we will increase our capacity to connect these children and adolescents with the intensive treatment they need."  Minors Joining UnionsThe law in Texas already recognizes that minors are not fully equipped to enter into binding contracts on their own. This bill gives parents a voice in their children’s decision whether to join a union in exchange for a portion of their earnings. SB 75 will ensure that parents are involved in their minor child's decision about union membership. "This bill protects parental rights by requiring consent before a minor may join a union, and it protects minors from entering into a contract that they may not fully understand."  Sex Offender OrdinancesSB 76 gives Texas' general-law municipalities the authority to pass local ordinances that place residency restrictions on sex offenders. In 2006, Senator Nelson submitted a request for an Attorney General opinion on whether general-law municipalities have the authority to pass a local ordinance in regard to residency restrictions for sex offenders. The AG concluded that Texas law does not allow general-law municipalities the authority to implement residency restrictions; however, home rule cities have the authority to have such residency restrictions. Currently, there are 14 general-law municipalities across Texas being sued for passing ordinances that prohibit registered sex offenders from living within a specified distance from a "child safety zone" -- including four cities from senate district 12: Argyle, Ponder, Oak Point, and Hickory Creek. "We need to keep children safe in every city," Senator Nelson said. "This bill will give general-law municipalities the same autonomy that is currently granted to home-rule cities to protect their children from sex offenders."  Terminating Parental RightsSB 77 establishes a conviction of "sexual assault of the other parent" as grounds to terminate parental rights. The need for this legislation stems from a case in Flower Mound where a woman was brutally and violently raped by her husband. Even after his conviction, his parental rights could not be terminated because this specific crime does not constitute grounds to terminate parental rights. There are currently 22 applicable "grounds" in law for terminating parental rights. SB 77 adds sexual assault of the other parent to that list. "I was horrified to learn of my constituent's ordeal. No parent should be forced to co-parent with their rapist, and this bill will provide stronger protections for victims of domestic assault."  CASA ComputersSB 78 adds Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to the list of state entities eligible to receive used computers from the State of Texas. This technology will allow foster children to connect to all kinds of information and to become empowered and engaged and will go a long way to help establish a sense of normalcy for these children. "CASA is a volunteer organization that supports some of the most vulnerable children in our state. They advocate on behalf of children who may not have a voice, and under this bill CASA will be able to acquire technology to help carry out its important mission."  Public InformationSB 79 streamlines access to public information by allowing state agencies to respond to information requests with an internet address where requested information may already exist. Currently, state agencies must provide original copies for inspection, make duplications, and/or send the information by first class mail, all of which expend valuable time and resources. "Government should be as efficient and transparent as possible, especially in responding to requests for information. If information is already available online, it makes sense that we would allow our agencies to respond to information requests by sharing a link, if the requesting party is amenable," Senator Nelson said.  Obsolete ReportsSB 80 eliminates and streamlines agency reports that no longer serve their intended purpose or are redundant of other reporting requirements. "Through this bill we will ensure that state resources can be focused on current priorities rather than the production of obsolete reports at the expense of taxpayers."  CPRITSB 81 clarifies that Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Oversight Committee members must file financial disclosures with the Texas Ethics Commission. It also gives CPRIT the tools it needs to exercise its fiduciary responsibility and protect the state’s investment in cancer research. “It is vitally important that CPRIT have the tools it needs to carry out its important mission in the most transparent, ethical and effective manner.”  Local TourismSB 82 directs Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to work with local communities on road closures that will impact festivals and other community events. Specifically, it prohibits TxDOT from temporarily closing a highway for construction if a city has given the Department at least 180 days’ notice of the event. "Tourism is critically important to our economy. The state should partner with local communities to mitigate unnecessary roadblocks to ensure that festivals, community events and other tourism efforts are successful," Senator Nelson said.

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