COMMITTEE LOOKS AT HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES CONSOLIDATION
|Senator John Whitmire of Houston authored a measure that would change the way grand juries are selected.|
(AUSTIN) — All five state healthcare agencies would be combined into one under a bill considered before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Monday. Bill author Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound believes that the current system is too cumbersome and confusing for clients. "Overall, we need a system with a clearly defined front door, one that's efficient, cohesive and easy for our citizens to navigate," she said. Nelson added that the nature of the system stands in the way of needed improvements, it creates turf battles between agencies and obscures responsibility. Her bill, SB 200, would take duties of the Departments of Aging and Disability Services, Family and Protective Services, Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, and State Health Services and place them under the Health and Human Services Commission.
This proposal comes as a result of the Sunset process, which requires all agencies to periodically undergo a comprehensive audit to determine if a governmental agency is still efficient and effective. After discovering many areas of overlap, duplicated services and redundant offices, the Sunset Advisory Commission, comprised of five lawmakers from each chamber as well as two public members, recommended the consolidation. This is the second time since the turn of the century that state health agencies have been reorganized. In 2003, the state combined the existing 12 agencies into the current five agencies, though that was driven by a massive budget shortfall. This effort, said Nelson, isn't about cutting costs but improving services. "We voted for these changes to create a system that is more efficient, effective and most importantly, better serves our clients," she said.
SB 200 would implement the consolidation over a number of years. DFPS and DSHS would remain separate entities until 2019. The other two agencies, DARS and DADS would move under the HHS Commission next year. Contracting, information technology, rate setting and other administrative duties would be combined. The newly condensed agency would be overseen by an 11 member panel made up of four Senators, four Representatives and three public members. The bill remains before the committee.
In floor action Monday, the Senate approved a measure that would change the way that grand juries are selected and would move Texas in line with 49 other states in the country according to its author. Houston Senator John Whitmire's bill, SB 135 would change the current "key man" selection system where a judge appoints a commissioner to personally select other members of the grand jury. This leads to concerns about potential abuse, and many large county and city courts in the state have already moved away from the system. SB 135 would mandate that all courts use a random selection system, similar to how trial juries are selected.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, March 24 at 11 a.m.