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Lawmakers Evaluate Session: A KERA Continuing Report

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Ask state legislators what they accomplished in Austin and you may hear about some bills you didn't know about. KERA's Shelley Kofler continues our follow-up to the recent legislative session by asking more North Texas lawmakers what got done and what didn't. School accountability was on the top of one lawmaker's list.

Shapiro in Senate: This is the accountability bill. For the first time we will maintain college readiness as a factor in rating our schools.

For Plano Republican Florence Shapiro, passage of the multi-faceted school accountability bill was among the best moments of the legislative session. In addition to changing the way students and campuses are evaluated, it allows third graders who fail the TAKS test to pass on to fourth grade. Currently they are held behind.

Shapiro: The most concern we heard throughout the travels we had was about third graders. How do you tell a third grader if they don't do well on the language arts part of the test they'll fail? That was causing a lot of heartache and problems.

Those students will now be offered extra help and individually monitored through the fifth grade where they will take the TAKS again.

Senator Shapiro says she's also pleased legislators appropriated $1.9 billion additional dollars for public schools, and an $800 one time pay raise to teachers.

State Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth and Rep. Chris Turner of Arlington list the same accomplishments and disappointments. On the plus side the two Democratic newcomers worked together to author some of the only relief approved this session for electric customers. Davis says the bill requires electric providers to notify consumers 30-days before their fixed-rate electric plans expire.

Davis: "So that they're not surprised by getting moved into a high-cost plan before they realize their plan is terminating and then being stuck with that plan while they're trying to sign up with a different provider.

Turner says the greatest disappointment was failure to address consumer pocketbook concerns.

Turner: We had an opportunity to address insurance- specifically homeowners, auto and health insurance- and we didn't do it. I think that is the biggest disappointment.

Republican Burt Solomons of Carrollton chairs the House state affairs committee which began talking about electricity industry reforms even though the talk didn't lead to successful legislation this session. Solomon says he's most proud of a bill that requires teens be at least 16-and-a-half years old before they use a tanning bed. They would need a parent's permission if they're under 18.

Solomons: The tanning bed bill was one of those that sort of took off and you realize how important it is to keep young children from developing melanoma at an early age.

Solomons' biggest disappointment: the failure of a home owner association bill he's worked on for five years.

Solomons: It allowed the home owner associations to do business but more openly. They had to announce when they had meetings and they had to have real elections to the boards.

Solomons says the bill would have addressed about 65-percent of all the battles property owners have with home owner associations. While it passed the house it didn't reach the floor of the Senate.

Email Shelley Kofler