WEEK IN REVIEW
Medicaid-Restructuring Bill Wins Senate Approval
AUSTIN - A broad proposal to overhaul the state's Medicaid program was passed by the Senate in Tuesday's session. The bill, the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 1156, was authored by Laredo Sen. Judith Zaffirini.
"This is the omnibus Medicaid bill that restructures the Medicaid program by moving the administration of Medicaid from the different agencies to the Health and Human Services Commission," Zaffirini said.
Other key provisions of the bill include:
- the creation of the Medicaid Legislative Oversight Committee, comprised of three senators and three state representatives;
- a requirement that the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) develop a single budget for the entire Medicaid program; and
- the authorization of the HHSC commissioner to work with the oversight committee to determine what other responsibilities should be transferred to HHSC.
Seven agencies are currently responsible for Medicaid administration. Zaffirini said CSSB 1156 is intended to improve efficiency and accountability.
"We face significant cost increases as fewer Texans receive adequate health care," Zaffirini said. "We drafted (the bill) to improve the health status of Texans while increasing administrative efficiency, introducing an effective system of checks and balances and improving cost savings."
Senate Vote Would Change Judicial Selection Process
The Senate on Wednesday voted final passage of legislation that would change the way many judges are selected in Texas.
Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan, the author of Senate Bill (SB) 129 and Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 3, said the legislation will help reduce partisanship and the influence of money in judicial elections. SJR 3 would create an amendment to the Texas Constitution under which the justices and chief justice of the Supreme Court, the presiding judge and judges of the court of criminal appeals, and the justices and chief justices of the court of appeals would be appointed by the governor. Following the appointed term, the judges could run in a retention election during a general election.
Accompanying legislation, SB 129, is the enabling bill that would create retention elections for non-partisan judicial candidates and prohibit straight-ticket voting for judges.
Proposed constitutional amendments require a 2/3 vote to pass in the Senate. Although several senators objected to the idea of changing the judicial selection process, the legislation had enough support for passage.
SJR 3 and SB 129 will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration. The proposed constitutional amendment will go before voters in the November general election if the legislation is signed into law by Governor Rick Perry.
Senators Attend Texas History Museum Dedication
Members of the Senate attended an invitation-only ceremony for the dedication of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum just north of the Capitol.
President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush were among the dignitaries who gathered to pay tribute to the 38th lieutenant governor and the museum that is named for him. Bullock served two terms as the presiding officer of the Senate from 1991 to 1999. He retired in 1999 and died June 18, 1999.
"He's been called the last of a breed. And it's true that politics has changed," President Bush said. "Let's just hope it doesn't change too much. We'll always need his kind of strength and toughness and shrewd wisdom."
The public is invited to the museum for its grand opening celebration tomorrow. Live music, storytelling, historical re-enactments and demonstrations are planned from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Bill Targets Health Care Access
The Senate on Wednesday approved the CSSB 1053, a measure authored by El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh that is intended to improve access to medical services in the border region.
"In the Blue Ribbon (Task Force) on Uninsured in Texas we came across a very serious issue in different parts of our state, and that is the disparity of Medicaid reimbursement and CHIP capitation rates," Shapleigh said.
Utilization rates are used to determine Medicaid reimbursement rates and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) capitation rates. CHIP capitation refers to the discounted rate at which health care providers are reimbursed.
The problem, Shapleigh said, is that the 43 Texas counties along the Mexico border lack an adequate health infrastructure, which has resulted in barriers to medical service and low utilization rates. CSSB 1053 would require the Health and Human Services Commission to increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate to physicians who care for Medicaid and CHIP recipients in the border area.
"What (CSSB 1053) does is this: it provides a methodology of recalculating rates in order to eliminate disparities in these 43 counties to the extent that funds are specifically appropriated for this purpose."
Shapleigh added that he did not expect the state to be able to fully fund the bill, which would cost an estimated $118 million, in the upcoming budget.
Senate Honors 53-Year Staff Member
The Senate on Thursday remembered former members and paid tribute its longest-serving staff member who is retiring at the end of the session.
The Senate honors past members every session on Members Reunion Day. Dignitaries present Thursday included former senators, governors, lieutenant governors and Governor Rick Perry.
The day also was marked by the adoption of a resolution honoring Secretary of the Texas Senate Betty King. Known to several generations of lawmakers as the "gracious lady of the Capitol," King is stepping down at the end of this session after 24 years as secretary of the senate and more than 53 years of service in the Legislature.
King's first exposure to the Legislature came when she was 14 and served as an honorary page while her mother worked for the speaker of the house. After college, she served as a clerk for the House Appropriations Committee in 1947 before going to work in the Senate in 1949. In 1977 she was elected secretary of the senate by the members, a post she has held longer than any person in Texas history.
"Betty King, you are a giant," said Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos.
The Lieutenant Governor's Committee Room has been renamed the Betty King Committee Room, a high honor at the Capitol.
"I think there's historic significance in the fact that that room will be named after a woman," said Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis. "Mrs. King, we named that room after you because we believe in what you stand for."
The Dean, or longest-serving member of the Senate, Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi, summed up the comments of his colleagues simply: "You have served the State of Texas well."
Truan has served in the Senate since the 65th Legislative Session in 1977, the same session King was elected secretary.
After listening to the senators describe her as a mother figure and debate who among them was her favorite, a teary-eyed King replied, "You all behave yourselves."
UT President's Letter Riles Senators
The Senate confirmed a group of gubernatorial appointments on Wednesday, though not without pointed comments about the ethnic makeup of the University of Texas (UT) System Board of Regents and UT executives and deans.
An April 24 letter written by University of Texas at Austin President Larry R. Faulkner to San Antonio Sen. Frank L. Madla concerning appointments at the university only added to the tension.
The letter read in part, "It is often the case, even though the situation is getting better, that there are not enough minority applicants who yet possess the education and experience necessary to compete for faculty or high-level academic appointments. Thus, it is key that we do a better job in educating and mentoring minorities. At the University of Texas, we are committed to doing so."
San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, among several other senators, criticized the attitude of the letter and UT's record of appointing minorities to high-level positions.
"It is extremely hurtful to stand on this floor today to have to respond to -- again -- another offensive affront to the changing demographics of this state," Van de Putte said.
Other Senate News
The chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, won final passage in the Senate on Wednesday of the Committee Substitute for Senate Joint Resolution (CSSJR) 35, which proposes a constitutional amendment that would require in the future that redistricting be handled in a special session. Redistricting is done every 10 years, following the U.S. Census.
If approved by both chambers of the Legislature and signed by the governor, the proposed amendment to the constitution would be on the ballot in the November general election.
On Thursday, the Senate passed House Bill (HB) 1130, a measure sponsored in the Senate by Barrientos.
HB 1130 is intended to address the shortage of teachers in Texas by expanding an existing tuition exemption program for teacher aides who want to become teachers.
The Senate also passed SB 532 Thursday. The bill would authorize the Health and Human Services Commission to provide full Medicaid benefits to certain uninsured women who need treatment for breast or cervical cancer.
"This legislation will make this critical treatment available to low-income women in Texas who often rely on an ... ad hoc network of charity care," said the bill's author, Flower Mound Sen. Jane Nelson.
There are 32 days left in the 77th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. For more information about legislation and the Texas Legislature, please visit www.capitol.state.tx.us.
The Senate stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday.