By Richard Lee
The Senate unanimously approved Tuesday a proposal to fix the pension fund that pays for the retirement of Dallas police officers and firefighters. Years of mismanagement and poor investments led to the fund facing an insolvency crisis, but the new plan would make the fund solvent for the foreseeable future. The agreement was the result of cooperation between Dallas lawmakers, city leadership and union officials. Led in the Senate by Senators Don Huffines and Royce West, the proposal would change the governance structure to give the city a majority on the governing board but would require a two-thirds majority to make changes to benefits or contributions. It would require an independent actuarial study in 2024 to ensure proper management of the fund. “Now we provide the City of Dallas the ability to nurture and further develop this pension fund into what we want it to be, a model for not only for the Great State of Texas but also the United States,” said West.
With the end of the session looming, the Senate met in session for many hours Tuesday, passing a flurry of legislation. One measure was HB 2, the supplemental budget bill, by Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, which would spend about $1 billion in state revenue to true up current fiscal year expenses with what was appropriated in 2015. Because the budget is written two years in advance, the state must pay for unexpected costs and account for actual revenue at the end of the biennium. This year, the big costs were growth in Medicaid and prison healthcare, as well as $100 million in emergency appropriations for Child Protective Services approved over the interim. “It meets our supplemental needs and it rights the ship at Child Protective Services to ensure the safety of children at risk,” Nelson said of the measure. Passed unanimously by the Senate, it goes back to the House for consideration of Senate changes to the bill.
Also passed Tuesday was HB 2908, a bill that would extend hate crime protections to police officers and judges.. A priority of Governor Greg Abbott, the bill would enhance penalties for crimes committed against a police officer. Restraining, assaulting or threatening an officer would go from a class A misdemeanor to a second degree felony, which carries a penalty of 2 to 20 years. Causing serious bodily harm to an officer, a second degree felony under current law, would be enhanced to a first degree offense, meaning the perpetrator could face five to 99 years in prison. “House Bill 2908 sends a clear message that the state of Texas stands with our police officers,” said bill sponsor Senator Joan Huffman of Houston. The bill will now head to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
Finally Tuesday, the Senate passed a measure that would ensure that parents can adequately say goodbye when they face the ultimate tragedy of losing a child. “When a child dies, the parents may be prohibited from seeing the body and saying goodbye until after the body has even gone as far as autopsy,” said New Braunfels Senator Donna Campbell, who sponsored the bill, HB 298. It would affirm in statute that a parent has the right to see their child before the body is released to the county or state for examination or autopsy. Before final passage, Campbell introduced her constituent, Laura McDaniel, whose tragic loss of her seven year-old son Wyatt led to the crafting of the bill. After Wyatt died after being buried by a sand pile, McDaniel had to wait days to finally see the body of her son. Following the incident, she fought for changes in law. “I’m honored to have her join us today to be part of this significant moment,” said Campbell. “Laura, thank you for your courage, thank you for your passion, and for your perseverance.” The Senate passed the bill unanimously.