Bill of the Week: SB 54

Tcdd bill of the week



For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) profiles a noteworthy bill that is currently going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.

Bill: Senate Bill (SB) 54, relating to a study and report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) regarding best practices for assisting students with autism.

Bill Author: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Texas Senate District 21 (Laredo)

What does the bill do?
SB 54 would require THECB to conduct a study to determine the best practices for assisting students with autism who are enrolled at institutions of higher education.

The study must identify and track:

  • Students with autism who graduate from secondary schools in Texas
  • Students with autism who are enrolled at institutions of higher education
  • Financial assistance available to students with autism who enroll at institutions of higher education
  • Graduation rates of students with autism who enroll at institutions of higher education

The study must also identify and examine best practices and program modules from public and private institutions of higher education outside the state that have achieved successful results in working with students with autism.

As introduced, the bill would require THECB to collaborate with school districts that offer specialized programs for students with autism with the goal of determining how those programs can be replicated at or extended to postsecondary institutions in Texas. A committee substitute of SB 54 calls for THECB to work directly with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on this matter, rather than with school districts.

THECB would be directed to submit a written report no later than Dec. 1, 2023, to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, and the Texas commissioner of education that includes the study’s findings and any recommendations for legislative or other actions. The bill expires on Jan. 1, 2024, making this a one-time study.

The bill takes effect immediately if it receives a two-thirds vote from each legislative chamber. If it does not receive enough votes for immediate effect, the bill would take effect on Sept. 1, 2021.

Statement from bill author, Sen. Judith Zaffirini: 

Photo of Senator Judith Zaffirini, Senate District 21 (Laredo) wearing a blue shirt and black blazer

“Students with autism spectrum disorder often struggle in higher education for reasons unrelated to coursework. Supporting them appropriately begins with identifying specialized programming that helped them succeed through K-12 and translating it to the higher education context.

Senate Bill 54 would do just that by directing the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct a study and report its findings to the Legislature, paving the way for a higher education environment that allows students with autism to thrive.”

Where is the bill in the process?
On April 28, 2021, SB 54 received a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Higher Education and was left pending. When a bill is left pending, it means that the committee did not vote on the bill and it could be considered again at a future committee meeting. You can watch the discussion on SB 54 here, beginning at the 22:56 mark.

Who supports the bill and why?
The Mayor’s Office of the City of Houston, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Texas (NAMI Texas), and seven individuals registered in support of the bill. None provided testimony.

Who opposes the bill and why?
No opposition to the bill was registered at the public hearing.

Additional Testimony:
The following comments were taken at the April 28, 2021, public hearing:

  • TCDD: Sabrina Gonzalez, public policy analyst for TCDD, provided the following remarks on the bill: “Autism is a complex developmental disability that impacts a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Approximately 1 in 68 Americans are diagnosed with autism, yet college attainment levels for this population are concerningly low. Low levels of college attainment within this population are not indicative of academic ability, but rather an indicator of how unprepared students with autism are to pursue higher education after high school graduation. When students with autism are provided with the educational supports and services they are entitled to, they can achieve college success and positive employment outcomes.” Gonzalez also explained that TCDD has been in contact with Zaffirini’s office to suggest that the study and report be carried out by the Advisory Committee on Postsecondary Education for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, which was created last session by SB 1017 and is housed within the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

How much will the bill cost?
The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) determined the bill would not impact the state budget in a significant way.

Is there a House companion to the bill?
There is no House companion to SB 54.

Related Bills:

  • House Bill (HB) 855 by Rep. Mary González would require a joint study and report by TEA and THECB regarding the transition of public-school students with disabilities to higher education. The bill was referred to the House Public Education Committee but has not received a public hearing.
  • SB 661 by Sen. Beverly Powell would establish the Building Better Futures Program to provide educational and occupational skills training opportunities and support services for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities at public and private institutions of higher education. The bill was referred to the Senate Higher Education Committee but has not received a public hearing.

Stay Informed:
For the latest information about where SB 54 is in the process, follow the bill on the Texas Legislature Online. To receive future legislative updates from TCDD, subscribe to TCDD eNews or follow us on Twitter.

Bill of the Week Updates:
HB 24, which would administer funding to school districts to provide inclusive and accessible playgrounds, was recently brought up for a re-vote after it initially failed to pass out of the House Public Education Committee due to the absence of multiple committee members. The motion succeeded and the bill now awaits scheduling for consideration by the full Texas House.

HB 119, which would prohibit organ transplant discrimination based on disability, has now received affirmative votes in both the House and Senate. It has been sent to the governor, where it awaits signature into law.

HB 797, which would allow for the administration of FDA-approved vaccines by home health nurses, is also awaiting the governor’s signature.

HB 2107, which would allow outpatient services for children who are unable to proceed in juvenile court proceedings due to an intellectual disability, has been scheduled for consideration by the House on May 8, 2021.

HB 2256, which would create a bilingual special education certification program for teachers, was recently voted out of the Texas House. It now heads to the Senate to await consideration by that chamber.

HB 2831, which would create an advisory committee on the confinement of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in county jails, has been scheduled for consideration by the full Texas House on May 11, 2021.

SB 50, which would develop a competitive integrated employment initiative for working-age adults with disabilities, has been scheduled for a public hearing on May 11, 2021, by the House Human Services Committee.

SB 89, which would require schools to provide an individualized educational plan supplement for students enrolled in special education during the COVID-19 pandemic, was recently reported favorably in the House Public Education Committee. Its House companion, HB 144, was also reported favorably by the committee. Both bills await scheduling for consideration by the full Texas House.


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