From AP REPORTS
AUSTIN - Texas public high school athletes would face mandatory random steroid testing under a bill given final approval Monday by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Rick Perry.
Monday was the last day of the 140-day legislative session.
If Perry allows the bill to become law - he has not publicly expressed opposition - the state could begin testing tens of thousands of students at the start of the coming football season. It would be the largest high school steroids testing program in the country.
"It will help secure healthy and safe lives for our young people," said Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, the House sponsor of the measure. "Coaches, parents and fans are going to appreciate it."
Steroid testing has been a major component of Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's campaign to protect children. Athletes who test positive, or refuse to be tested, could be suspended from play. Athletes in all sports, from football to wrestling to tennis, could be tested.
"I made steroid testing of high school athletes a priority this session because I believe it will deter young people from putting that poison in their bodies and save lives all across Texas," Dewhurst said.
FOSTER CARE REFORMS
A measure to strengthen protection of foster children and repeal much of the privatization lawmakers ordered two years ago is on its way to the governor's desk.
The legislation calls for annual inspections of foster homes. Currently, about one-third are inspected each year. It also would provide money to families considered at risk of abusing or neglecting their youngsters because of their poverty, with the authors hoping to increase the supply of quality foster homes, which are scarce.
In the wake of a handful of beating deaths of foster children, officials have found spotty state oversight of foster care contractors and state officials' lack of information about Texas' nearly 10,000 foster homes.
The measure also would require a database be kept on foster parents who have been dismissed by private child-placing agencies. Some lawmakers fear that a small number of foster parents are evading detection by jumping from agency to agency.
"This legislation provides additional resources to strengthen the foster care system and provide additional layers of oversight to ensure the safety of our foster children," said Sen. Jane Nelson, a Lewisville Republican. "It is vital that when we remove a child from a dangerous environment, we are placing them in a safe, supportive foster home."
The measure also will require fingerprint background checks for day care employees.
Texas middle school students will be required by law to exercise for 30 minutes a day under legislation now headed to Gov. Rick Perry's desk.
The legislation requires at least four semesters of "moderate to vigorous daily physical activity" for students in grades six, seven and eight.
The bill also would require daily exercise for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
If the measure becomes law, school districts would have to perform an annual physical fitness test of all students and report the results with students' names deleted to the Texas Education Agency.
The TEA would be required to analyze the results by school district to determine whether the activity has any impact on student academic achievement, attendance, obesity and discipline.
Current law requires 30 minutes of physical activity per day or 135 minutes per week for children up to the sixth grade. But some critics say that no checks are in place and schools have too much wiggle room to avoid the physical activity requirement.
Recess would not count as physical activity.
The Senate passed a resolution honoring the men and women of the military on Monday, especially those who have died while serving their country.
They singled out Senate staff member Foy Watson, who earned a Purple Heart while serving aboard the USS Tuscaloosa during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
"He is my personal hero," said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville. "He is a great American and a member of the greatest generation ever known to us in America."
The House adopted a resolution Monday honoring Emilio Gonzales, a baby from Lockhart who died earlier this month and was at the center of a debate over futile care legislation.
A proposal to change state law and extend the 10-day timeline for medically futile patients before a hospital can cut off their life support was never passed in the House, though the Senate approved the measure.
The Austin hospital that was caring for 18-month-old Emilio wanted to stop his life-sustaining care because doctors said it was medically inappropriate to keep treating the terminally ill boy. His mother objected and was fighting that decision in court when he died.
The Texas Senate elected Republican Sen. John Carona to be president pro tempore. The president pro tempore takes over the duties of the governor's office when the elected governor and lieutenant governor are both out of state.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said this session was Carona's best. He chaired the powerful transportation and homeland security committee and brokered an important deal on a major transportation bill.
"He has been amazing, a true powerhouse to be reckoned with," Zaffirini said.
Carona served three terms in the Texas House of Representatives before he was elected to the Senate in 1990. The Dallas native is president of a national realty management firm.
In addition to applauding Carona's achievements, senators also poked fun at his temper and his sense of humor. Early this month, after a heated argument with freshman Sen. Dan Patrick, Carona hid a hobby horse head in a blanket on the talk radio host's chair.
"He has a vision for the future of Texas which we cannot refuse," Sen. Kim Brimer said.