SENATE HHS COMMITTEE CONTINUES WORK ON INTERIM CHARGES
(AUSTIN)—Senators on the Health and Human Services Committee met Wednesday to consider two interim charges: monitoring stem cell research and evaluation of legislation passed last session that affects foster child placement. Committee Chair Jane Nelson of Flower Mound began the meeting by hearing testimony relating to stem cell research at public institutions in Texas. " I hope we're able to work with our institutions moving forward to come up with viable options to give the state a better understanding about what is happening with our research money," she said.
According to the Legislative Budget Board, the Legislature last session appropriated $71.2 million in research funds, none of which were specifically slated for stem cell research, adult or otherwise. Only the University of Texas receives any money specifically for that kind of research, about $5 million in federal funds for adult stem cell research and heart therapy.
Officials from four universities testified before the committee, representing the health science centers at the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and the University of North Texas. Of these four, all but Texas Tech are engaged in adult human stem cell research, and only UT has any projects devoted to embryonic stem cell research, a single study relating to chronic lung disease. This study, said Dr. Peter Davies, Provost and Executive Vice President for Research at the UTHSC at Houston, receives no money from state sources. Dr. Davies touted human stem cell research as vital to progress in medical treatment. "The goal of our stem cell research program is to create new therapies," he said. "These are inextricable parts of our programs in a number of disease areas."
The committee also heard testimony relating to changes made to foster child placement policies made during the 81st Session to comply with new federal standards. Legislation passed last session would require all relatives of a foster child to be notified that they are eligible to care for the child. It would also permit relatives to be reimbursed by the state for caring for the child, as other foster parents are. "This changes the landscape of foster care here in Texas," said Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein. She believes that this will help keep foster children together with relatives, rather than putting them with strangers.
The Health and Human Services Committee will meet again on Thursday, March 11, at 9 a.m. to consider testimony relating to another interim charge, reviewing mental services available to abused and neglected children.