News Release
July 25, 2013
Contact: Sydni Mitchell
(512) 463-0103
My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3

As July approaches an end, the second special legislative session does as well.

Five things that happened this week at your Texas Capitol are:

1. Rural hospital investigation

Governor Perry recently announced that he has ordered a "deep and comprehensive look" at healthcare facilities owned by Tariq Mahmood of Cedar Hill, whose rural hospitals have been accused of patient safety violations and billing fraud. One of those hospitals is Shelby Medical Center in Center, Texas.

In April, the federal government charged Mahmood with defrauding Medicare and Medicaid programs to the tune of $1.1 million, though he denies any wrongdoing.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission's inspector general has been quoted regarding the coming investigation as saying that "We will likely pull records, pull files, have our nurses, auditors and investigators review those records, go on-site if appropriate, and interview staff. I think the state will get an aggressive and positive outcome from us looking into it."

I completely support this effort, not only to understand what happened in Mahmood's facilities, but to prevent it from happening again.

2. Planned Parenthood settlement

Perhaps you heard last week that Planned Parenthood is planning to close three Texas clinics: Lufkin, Huntsville and Bryan. However, the big news this week is that the organization has just settled a $1.4 million Medicaid fraud lawsuit with the Texas Attorney General's office. Planned Parenthood has agreed to pay the money back to the state after an investigation revealed that the entity's Gulf Coast division, which serves parts of southeastern Texas, overbilled the state-federal Medicaid program.

Specifically, the lawsuit states that Planned Parenthood billed the government for services and products that were not medically necessary, never actually rendered, and not covered by the Medicaid program. In response to the settlement, Attorney General Greg Abbott stated this week that the organization's actions were "like taking health care money from those who need it most and sticking it in their own pockets. Actions like this harm the very people who need access to health care."

3. Roller coaster regulations

I'm sure by now most of you have heard about the recent tragic accident at Six Flags in Arlington in which a woman was killed. Investigations are ongoing and we do not yet know the cause. However, the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) regulates all such amusement rides and says there are a few things we can do to increase rider safety:

"Look for the Sticker" - A compliance sticker should be attached to each ride.

"Look for the Sign" - A sign is required to inform the public how to report (on-site) an amusement ride that appears to be unsafe or to report an amusement ride operator that appears to be violating the law. The sign is to be posted at the principal entrance or at the ticket booths.

Look for posted height/weight restrictions for riders on certain rides.

Finally, feel free to contact TDI with anything that looks unsafe at 512-463-6169.

4. War on Feral hogs

In Texas, feral hogs are no laughing matter; they destroy wildlife, vegetation and personal property. It is estimated that they cause more than $50 million in annual damages to Texas agriculture.

More than two decades into our state's war against the non-native species, the wild pigs are still gaining ground. They reproduce at the rate of about 21 percent a year, bringing their estimated total to around 2.6 million in 240 of Texas' 254 counties.

Thankfully, Texas Parks and Wildlife is now working with other government agencies toward a potentially significant solution: Sodium nitrite. This poison has been used to great effect against hogs in Australia, but is still federally prohibited in the U.S.

Texas Parks and Wildlife's current research challenge is to develop a bait/sodium nitrite combination that is lethal to hogs, as well as a feeder that is accessible to the pigs, but not to deer and other wildlife. For the sake of Texas agriculture producers, let us hope they are successful soon.

5. Audie Murphy: Continued

Finally, I want to give you a quick update on the Legislature's attempt to honor Audie Murphy, World War II's most decorated soldier, with the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.

Last week I let you know that the House had voted in favor of HCR 3, a resolution urging Gov. Perry to award the medal to Captain Murphy posthumously. On Thursday of this week, I was proud to cast my vote to do the same. The measure passed the Senate unanimously.