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Seal of the Senate of the State of Texas
Welcome to the official website for the
Texas Senate
April 9, 2015
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The Texas Senate
Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt sponsored the bill to give terminal patients access to experimental treatments under some circumstances.

(AUSTIN) — A bill that seeks to give terminal patients quicker access to experimental treatments passed the Senate Thursday. Houston Senator Paul Bettencourt offered the legislation because he believes the current system is too cumbersome and slow to help people who need treatment fast. "Time is a predator," he said. "We have to do everything we can to get government out of the way." His bill, SB 694, would create a new framework to help those with a terminal disease get access to drugs and treatments still in the FDA trial process quickly and safely.

A drug entering FDA trials goes through three phases: an animal and limited human trial phase, to judge safety but not effectiveness, a small human trial phase to see how well the drug treats the disease it's aimed at, and a third phase of wider human trials that test different populations and how it might interact with other drugs. SB 694 would give access to drugs that have successfully completed phase one trials under certain conditions. A patient could seek these treatments once all other options have been exhausted and they sign a consent form demonstrating they were informed about the likely risks and outcomes of the treatment. Insurance companies are not required to pay for the treatments, nor would a pharmaceutical company be required to provide the treatment.

One concern raised through the process was the worry that some malicious pharmaceutical providers or doctors could leverage the desperation of a dying patient to sell what Health and Human Services Committee Chair Charles Schwertner called "snake oil" in committee. Schwertner said that families and patients facing dire circumstances could be easily deceived by people making false promises for profit. "One of the biggest tragedies I can think of is, not only selling false hope, but impoverishing them and their family with the non-judicious use of pharmaceuticals in the last phases of their life," he said on the Senate floor Thursday. The bill was changed in order to remove the money from the equation. A pharmaceutical company offering a drug covered under the bill or a doctor administering the treatment must agree to do so at no cost to the patient.

Also Thursday, the Senate approved a plan that could lead to every state vehicle running off of natural gas. SB 12 by San Antonio Senator Carlos Uresti would create a financial incentive program to help state agencies upgrade to natural gas or other alternative fuel vehicles when they buy new state cars, trucks or vans or to convert existing vehicles. Local and county governments would not be required to participate, though they could use the program voluntarily.

Another bill passed Thursday would use a new metric to calculate the state spending cap. SB 9, by Senator Kelly Hancock of North Richmond Hills, would use population growth and inflation rather than personal income growth to calculate the ceiling limiting state budget growth. Hancock said he believes this will tighten the rate at which the state budget grows biennium to biennium. The bill would also change the vote necessary to exceed this spending cap from a simple majority to three-fifths of each chamber.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 13 at 2 p.m.

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