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"TEXAS FAMILIES AGENDA" TOPS SESSION PRIORITIES FOR 81ST
November 10, 2008

"Supporting Texas families to succeed in tough times is our top priority."

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh, www.shapleigh.org

EL PASO –  Today, we have hope for Texas families.  For too long, working families have been left to struggle without genuine compassion—from affordable healthcare to quality education and well-paying jobs.  The "Texas  Families Agenda," filed today by Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso), will focus Texas priorities on the real needs for prosperity.

"Supporting Texas families to succeed in tough times is our top priority," said Senator Shapleigh.  Here are the top priorities for the 81st Texas Legislature.

* Working families must develop 21st century financial literacy skills and be protected from financial predators and deceptive practices.

Following this year's global financial crisis, regulation of predatory and deceptive lending practices and developing sound financial literacy skills for the 21st century the are top priorities.  Already, several Governors and Attorneys General, Democrats and Republicans, around America have taken on the battle to beat predatory financing—in Arkansas, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and other states.  Yet today, Texas families continue to pay as much as 1100 percent in interest for payday loans.

With costs of living—from rent and food to education and transportation—increasing every day, financial services must be transparent and affordable.  To create fair lending and promote state-of-the-art financial literacy in Texas, Senator Shapleigh is filing the following legislative proposals:

  • Prohibit the imposition of prepayment penalties, flipping of loans, and lender financing of credit insurance;
  • Close the Credit Service Organization (CSO) loophole, which allows payday lenders to operate without regulation in Texas;
  • Prohibit certain activities by persons employed in higher education financial aid offices;
  • Improve financial literacy education in Texas; and,
  • Limit payday lending interest rates to 36 percent. 

* Working families must have access to quality, affordable healthcare.

Texas is the most uninsured state in America.  El Paso is the least insured big city in America.  Today 5.5 million Texans are uninsured, up from 3.6 million in 1990.  And this scenario is only going to get worse, with rates projected to increase another 7 percent in 2009.  For a state with the third largest economy in the country, we can do better.  We must improve access and affordability of basic healthcare services to every Texan.

Today, even Texans with insurance can’t afford the bill.  Almost half of all bankruptcies filed in America today are the result of medical debt.  What's surprising is that most of these bankruptcies are filed by those who had health insurance but were "underinsured."  In fact, a recent study released by the Center for Studying Health System Change estimates that 89 percent of Americans who are having problems paying their medical bills million are insured—about 43 million Americans.

In addition, in Texas, 3 to 5 percent of Medicaid dollars are spent on overhead while the rest is used to deliver direct health care. Compare this with the 29 percent private insurers spend on administrative costs, which include denial management.

To improve healthcare in Texas, Senator Shapleigh is filing the following legislative proposals:

  • Create a universal healthcare system for Texas;
  • Allow provisional licensing of physicians in Texas, to improve access to healthcare;
  • Require reporting from insurance companies on the cancellation/rescission of health benefit plans;
  • Prohibit certain compensation based on cancelling/rescinding or limiting coverage of health benefit plans;
  • Develop a "top draft choice" pipeline to accelerate the health education of qualified health professionals—including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other key specialists—in Texas;
  • Develop student loan forgiveness programs so students in key health professions can have loans forgiven in return for service in underserved rural and urban areas; and,
  • Work to develop tax credits and incentives to encourage employer-based health insurance, especially in businesses that have less than 500 employees.

* Working families must have access to quality, affordable higher education.

With an expected population of 50 million by 2040, the future of our state will be defined by the education of our people.  While 58 percent of Canada's population has earned a college degree, the number is 28 percent for Texas.  Across the political spectrum nearly every thoughtful elected leader will say to his public that in a 21st century knowledge-based economy Texans must compete and that education is the key to competition, jobs and prosperity.

However, higher education beyond the reach of too many Texas families.  From fall 2003 to fall 2007, total academic charges at UT-Dallas have gone up 66 percent; at UT-San Antonio, 63 percent.  In March 2008, the UT Board of Regents approved tuition and fee rates for the next two years, once again increasing the cost of higher education.  At the same time that tuition has soared, state funding for higher education has decreased and grant programs have failed to keep pace with the state's needs.     

To improve access to higher education in Texas, Senator Shapleigh is filing the following legislative proposals:

  • End tuition deregulation in Texas;
  • Exempt top 10 percent students from some tuition and fees;
  • Fully fund TEXAS Grants;
  • Create a "contract" with students that locks in tuition and fees for four years;
  • Create incentives for college students to graduate early; and,
  • Create an online portal for college students to access financial aid and academic information.

* Working families deserve transparency in government, taxation and the political process.

The working families of Texas benefit from access to information on government, taxation and the political process.  To improve transparency in government, Senator Shapleigh is filing the following legislative proposals:

  • Allow online property appraisal appeals in Texas;
  • Require local government websites to post proposed tax incentives and abatements that will be considered by the ruling body;
  • Move the margin tax revenue threshold for Texas businesses from $300,000 to $1 million;
  • Create a paper ballot voting system with advanced security features; and,
  • Limit to $100,000 the total amount of political contributions allowed per office holder per two-year cycle.

* In El Paso, Senator Shapleigh will continue to work for our medical school, UTEP, Texas Tech and Ft. Bliss.

El Paso priorities for the 81st Texas Legislature include:

  • Secure Texas Tech funding for El Paso's medical school and funding for a third research building;
  • Secure UTEP funding and work to gain Tier One status;
  • Secure BRAC funding and pass related legislation to improve the quality of life and education opportunities of Texas' military families;
  • Work to support El Paso's $1 billion transportation plan and to restore Fund Six diversions;
  • Secure funding for a Franklin Mountain Visitor’s Center;
  • Fix equity issues related to public school financing; and,
  • Expand CHIP coverage.

Monday, November 10, is the first day for pre-filing of legislation for the 81st Texas Legislature.

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