Student debt bill moves to Governor’s desk

A bill aimed at protecting professionals who default on their student loans is now on Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

On May 21, the Texas House voted 146-0 with one member absent to pass Senate Bill (SB) 37, originally authored by State Sen. Judith Zafirini (D-Laredo). State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) cosponsored the bill, which would keep Texans from losing their occupational licenses if they defaulted on their student loans. On May 16, SB 37 was approved by the Texas Senate.

All actions were taken just as the 86th Legislative Session wound down. Legislators formally called Sine Die, or the end of the session, Monday. With both houses approving the bill, Abbott has 10 days to either sign the measure, veto it or allow it to become law without a signature.

“As a Texan with student loans, I know the burden of starting a career, buying a home, and making other investments with college debt,” Zwiener said. “SB 37 protects Texans from further financial struggle by ensuring they cannot lose their licenses while still drowning in student loans. We cannot expect folks to pay off their debt while taking away their income stream at the same time.”

The bill was part of a six-bill effort by Zaffirini to address higher education in Texas regarding student loan forgiveness and free education for lower-income residents. 

“These students secured loans to earn the very licenses they are losing,” Zaffirini said. “Taking away their ability to earn a living and pay back their debts simply does not make sense.”

Since 2010, 530 nurses were denied renewal for their licenses because they defaulted on student loans, according to a public information request by the Texas Tribune. 

Additionally, 250 teachers had their licenses renewals denied, according to the same report. 

Hays CISD Public Information Officer Tim Savoy said educators with student loans who are employed by the district could stand to benefit from the legislation. 

“If you don’t have a professional license and cannot work, that clearly doesn’t help an individual pay off those loans,” Savoy said. “If the goal is for students to continue paying loans, you would need to ensure they can work in the profession they went to school for.” 

Currently, there are 20 states that can block the renewal of a professional license, including Texas. But this issue can transcend state lines, affecting millions across the country. 

Student debt has exceeded $1.5 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Around one in five, or more than 8 million Americans are defaulting on their student loans. With rising costs in higher education tuition rates, the numbers are expected to rise.

“I am proud of our bipartisan work to protect Texans with student loan debt from losing their occupational licenses,” Zwiener said. “College costs are skyrocketing, student debt is increasing and Texans are hurting even before they begin their careers. We must continue the work to reduce the cost of higher education and allow future generations to reach their full potential.”

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