WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE COMMITTEES MOVE KEY BORDER SECURITY, MATERNAL MEDICAID BILLS
(AUSTIN) — As the end of session draws close, Senate committees continue to move hundreds of House bills onto the floor for consideration. Thursday, the Senate Border Security Committee advanced the session's sweeping border security bill in the form of HB 7. It was significantly changed from the version that passed the House last week, adding a number of previously passed Senate bills as well as restructuring the dedicated border task force proposed in the original version. Committee chair Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury said he identified some problems with the command structure as laid out in the House. "HB 7 also had a version of HB 20's Border Protection Unit," said Birdwell. "While we understand the intent of creating it, we identified the significant issue with the structure and chain of command it proposed." Instead, the Senate version of HB 7 would create a new Border Force Unit within the Texas Rangers, under the authority of the Department of Public Safety. Personnel, he said, would be drawn from peace officers and military members with border operations experience and who would receive further training in the form of an abbreviated academy term. "We gave great consideration on how to ensure…that we have trained individuals that are performing a duty, not simply individuals who are set aside," said Birdwell. This new unit would take part in almost all facets of border operations.
They would be enforcing a new state law proposed under the bill. Already passed by the Senate in the form of SB 2424, HB 7 includes language that creates a new trespassing statute, for unlawfully entering the state from a foreign nation. This is intended to answer concerns about the federal government's sole authority to enforce national immigration laws. Other language added from Senate bills would label Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, giving law enforcement more tools to pursue and prosecute them, and would create a mechanism whereby border residents can apply for compensation for agricultural land damaged by criminal activity associated with border crossings.
Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted out a bill that would allow women to continue to receive Medicaid coverage for up to one year after giving birth. Current federal law requires a minimum of 2 months of post-partum coverage, but as part of the COVID relief package passed in 2021, Congress gave states the choice to opt in to 10 more months of Medicaid. HB 12 would do just that. Committee chair and Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst said that new mothers will welcome any help they can get. "You cannot raise a child without being healthy," she said. "It takes a lot." A recent state study on maternal mortality in Texas found that 90 percent of post-partum deaths were preventable.
On the floor this week, the Senate approved a new funding structure for state community colleges, one the author says will serve as model for the rest of the country. HB 8, sponsored by Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton, would change funding formulas to emphasize and reward colleges that award more credentials that lead to good paying jobs and transfer more course credits when students choose to continue their education at a four year university. It would also increase funding for schools with higher percentages of returning adult students, economically disadvantaged students, and students that don't meet state college readiness standards. "This new model which incorporates both base and outcomes funding, aligned with workforce needs, represents a generational chance to make Texas a national model for workforce development and academic excellence," said Creighton. It also creates a dual-credit scholarship program for students with financial needs, allowing them to get a head start on their college education while still in high school at no cost.
The Senate will reconvene Sunday, May 21 at 4 p.m.