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April 19, 2000
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Photo: View from the Gallery of the Senate Human Services Committee Public Hearing
View from the Gallery of the Senate Human Services Committee Public Hearing

Senate Committee on Human Services held Public Hearing in Austin

AUSTIN - The Senate Committee on Human Services met today, Wednesday, April 19, 2000, in the Senate chamber of the State Capitol. The committee is holding hearings throughout the state to study interim charges issued by Lt. Governor Rick Perry. Committee members include Senators Judith Zaffirini of Laredo serving as chair, John Carona of Dallas serving as vice-chair, and David Bernsen of Beaumont, Mario Gallegos Jr. of Galena Park, and Chris Harris of Arlington.

The invited testimony was presented by a series of panels, each one addressing a specific topic. The first panel discussed the continuum of care and support options available to Texans in need of long-term care, and the implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 374, 76th Legislative Regular Session sponsored by Zaffirini. This bill enacts the provision of certain long-term services, the continuation and functions of the Texas Department on Aging, and the eventual consolidation of the Texas Department of Human Services and the Texas Department on Aging into a new agency on aging and disability services.

The first panel was integrated by Don Gilbert, Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner; Eric Bost, Texas Department of Human Services Commissioner; Karen Hale, Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation Commissioner; Dr. William "Reyn" Archer, Texas Department of Health Commissioner; Jim Hine, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services; Mary Sapp, Executive Director of the Texas Department on Aging; and Kim Stokes, Senior Associate Commissioner of Life, Health & Licensing for the Texas Department of Insurance.

The panelists briefed the committee on the ways their agencies are implementing the approved bills, the pilot programs they have already in progress and those planned for the future.

One of the topics discussed was how to speed the process of moving children from long-term care institutions to foster homes or other community settings. The planning of new pilot programs are in the early process, and funds will be needed to make them a reality. Related to this topic was the issue of children with special needs going to foster care and adoptive homes, and special needs reimbursements to the families that care for them. Another topic was the staffing of nursing homes, and the importance that trained professionals have in quality care.

Kim Stokes informed the committee that the cost of nursing homes liability insurance has increased considerably in recent years. Today's cost approaches $2,500 to $3,000 per bed per year. Owners of nursing home are concerned, and said the quality of the service will go down. Senator Harris showed concern at the prospect of loosing some of the national chains that operate nursing homes in Texas. From 60 to 65% of nursing home beds in the state belong to out of state companies, and Stokes said half of those could consider moving out.

Zaffirini thanked the panel and said she wants human services to be one of the main issues next session. To make this a reality, she said the committee would need the leadership of the officials present at the meeting today. She encouraged them to work even harder and told them that come September pilot programs would not be acceptable. By then, the committee will need to know what works in order to make legislative recommendations.

The second panel discussed services provided to hardest-to-serve adult welfare recipients and services provided to children receiving welfare. Don Gilbert and Eric Bost also participated in this panel. The other representatives were Diane Rath, Texas Workforce Commissioner and Patrick Bresett, Associate Director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Panelists said welfare reform has resulted in a 58% reduction of cases in Texas, a trend also seen at the national level. The smallest decline is shown in the group of older people, those less educated, with less work experience and more dependent children. Many programs are in place to ease the transition from dependence to self-suficiency, including job training and drug abuse treatment. Child-care and transportation are two of the main problems these people face.

Eric Bost told the committee there are between three and four hundred people eligible for food stamps that do not receive them. He said his agency is doing everything possible to reach that population, through fliers around affected communities, extended working hours in welfare offices, a hotline and website, among other means. The length of the written application has also been reduced. Senator Bernsen mentioned recent newspaper articles accusing welfare offices of discouraging applicants of food stamps and Medicaid. Don Gilbert replied this is not true, and that the Texas average of eligible people that are enrolled (55%) is higher than the national average of 52%.

The third panel discussed federal developments related to long-term care and welfare issues. Members of the panel were Don Gilbert; Eric Bost; Diane Rath; Laurie Rich, Executive Director of the Office of State and Federal Relations; Kathie Eckstein, Team Manager of Federal Funds in the Legislative Budget Board; and Patrick Bresette.

The fourth panel discussed the implementation of SB30 - 76th Session, by Sen. Florence Shapiro, a bill that calls for parental notification before an abortion is performed on minors. The bill also allows for a judicial bypass in exceptional cases. Panelists were Dr. William "Reyn" Archer, and Robert Pemberton, Rules Attorney of the Supreme Court of Texas. Pernberton informed the committee they are educating judges around the state about consistent rules to use in judicial bypasses. Dr. Archer talked about the design and distribution of information brochures about the issue, targeting the youth and printed in both English and Spanish. Archer apologized again for his recent remarks, when he said Hispanics do not see teen pregnancy as something negative.

The fifth panel dealt with the implementation of House Bill (HB) 2641 - 76th Session, by Rep. Patricia Gray, relating to the continuation and functions of the Health and Human Services Commission. The only panelist was Don Gilbert.

The sixth and last panel discussed the effects of additional resources provided to the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. The only panelist was Jim Hine, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.

Following the panels, the committee heard testimony from more than 60 public witnesses. Nursing home owners, representatives of non-profit organizations and committees on aging and people with disabilities, and those with family members in nursing homes, all presented their case. Nursing home owners protested insurance premiums and claims costs, and asked for more tort reform. On the other hand, some clients complained that nursing homes keep receiving funds but are always understaffed and provide insufficient service. Other witnesses talked about finding options other than institutionalizing children, and asked for more funds for children with disabilities who are cared for at home.

Advocates for battered women and children asked for more funds to provide services and programs to these victims. Some shelters have no other choice than to deny residence to victims due to full capacity.

Another issue discussed in testimony was the need of affordable childcare for women going from welfare to work.

The committee stands recessed subject to the call of the chair. The members will submit a report to be used in the drafting of legislation for the 77th Legislature, which convenes in January of 2001.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.