Thursday Highlights from the Texas Legislature

AUSTIN, Texas - Some lawmakers are trying to water down the power the State Board of Education has over what's being taught in classrooms.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, touting several such bills that he has filed, said the board's authority "simply has to be revisited."

"Experts should decide what our children are taught in school ... not political ideologues," said Ellis, D-Houston.

The criticisms came just a week before the board is set to take a decisive vote on new science curriculum standards. The proposal up for adoption would drop a 20-year-old requirement that critics say is used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

The change would drop the mandate that science teachers address both "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theory. New standards would be in place for the next decade.

Observers are closely watching the debate because of the religious implications.

The legislation being proposed would transfer some duties away from the state education board and to the Texas Education Agency. Another of Ellis' bills would subject the board to sunset review, a process in place to periodically ensure state agencies are operating properly.



The Senate gave final approval to creating needle exchange programs that allow people to trade dirty syringe needles for clean ones to help combat disease.

The bill now goes to the House, but its future is uncertain. Gov. Rick Perry's office says the Republican doesn't support the bill, setting it up for a possible veto. Opponents say needle exchange programs encourage drug use.

Texas is the only state that doesn't allow needle exchange programs.

Rep. Bob Deuell is the bill's sponsor. The Greenville Republican and family doctor says the program would help reduce infections of HIV and hepatitis.



The Senate passed a bill that requires school districts to disclose the names of superintendent candidates interviewed in the "final" round of interviews conducted for the job.

Current law allows districts to frequently announce a "lone finalist," a process that bill sponsor Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Tyler Republican, says discourages transparency and community input.

The bill now to the House for consideration.



A House committee on Thursday heard testimony on a host of bills seeking to expand coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program - and get Texas out of last place for insuring children.

A recent national report said Texas had 1.4 million uninsured children.

There are currently more than 456,000 children enrolled in CHIP, with more insured through Medicaid.

More than 10 bills - all filed by House Democrats - seek to increase the number of people eligible for CHIP money from the government, and get people who are eligible enrolled and keep them enrolled.

The proposals have expected costs from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Currently families wd ho make less than twice the federal poverty line - around $44,000 for a family of four - are eligible and they have to reapply every 6 months. Most of the bills heard Thursday would cover families who make up to 300 percent of the poverty line, and keep them enrolled for 12 months.

Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, said the amassed legislation has the potential to get hundreds of thousands of children insured. Rose is chair of the House Human Services Committee and author of one of the bills.

The bills varied on other proposed CHIP and Medicaid expansions, from allowing families with high medical costs be considered at a lower income level to expanding outreach and simplifying enrollment forms.