News Release
October 30, 2014
Contact: Sydni Mitchell
(512) 463-0103
My five cents...
A monthly column from Sen. Robert Nichols
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, I am thankful for the opportunity to represent East Texas in Austin as your State Senator. I hope this holiday for you is filled with family, friends and lots of pumpkin pie.

Here are five things happening around your state:

1. SD 3 Superintendent Tour

As State Senator, education has always been a top priority of mine. As I represent a predominantly rural area, the concerns and needs of its school districts vary from those of a more urban district. Because of this, it is important for me to stay in touch with educators across East Texas to better understand how decisions made in Austin are impacting local schools.

In addition to visiting with parents and teachers throughout the year, I make a special tour to meet with the 101 Superintendents from Senate District 3 before each Legislative session. This past month, my staff and I spent three weeks completing this tour. This provided me the opportunity to learn what is best to help ensure our children have the educational tools they need to be successful. I appreciate all of them for taking the time to meet with me.

2. Ebola Taskforce

In response to the Ebola outbreak in Texas, Governor Rick Perry appointed public health experts and the leadership from various state agencies to the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response. They are tasked with building on the existing State of Texas Emergency Management Plan and developing a long-term plan to respond to potential pandemic disease outbreaks in our state.

The Taskforce recently held their first public hearing in Austin and released their initial recommendations. These included asking the state to establish two Ebola treatment facilities and asking lawmakers to give health officials the legal power to restrict travel for people who may have been exposed to the infectious disease. The two treatment facilities have already been formed, the first is at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and the second is a partnership between UT Southwestern Medical Center, the Methodist Hospital System and the Parkland Hospital System in North Texas. The Taskforce will submit their final findings and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature by December 1st.

3. Sunset Recommendations

The theme of the recently released Texas Sunset Commission recommendations for the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) was consolidation and efficiency. They included integrating the states five health and human services agencies into one agency under HHSC. The hope of this proposed integration is to address the current gray lines of accountability and efficiency within these agencies.

Other recommendations included consolidating the Medicaid functions of the state which are now housed in three different agencies into one administration under HHSC. As the state transitions into managed care, it is important to ensure we are doing what we can to make this process as efficient as possible. Similar to other programs in the state, women's health and family services are spread over three programs in multiple agencies. This has created a service that is not only difficult to navigate, but also creates unnecessary administration costs. It has been recommended that a single women's health and family planning program for the health and human services system be established. As our state continues to grow, it is important that we create a reliable and efficient health care system to address the needs of all citizens.

4. TribLive Event

This month, I participated in a Texas Tribune TribLive event with Representative Travis Clardy at Stephen F. Austin State University. Healthcare in Texas, transportation funding, school finance as well as the upcoming 84th Legislative session were discussed. This was the first time the Texas Tribune has held an event like this in East Texas. Not only did individuals from multiple counties attend, but it was also a great way to bring a statewide spotlight to our part of the state. I was honored to be a part of this along with Representative Clardy.

5. Veterans Day

Veterans Day which was originally known as Armistice Day, commemorated the ending of World War I in 1918. In 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to ensure that all U.S. Veterans were included. On November 11th, we paid tribute to all American veterans and their services to our country. If you have a Veteran in your life, I encourage you to honor and thank them for the sacrifices they made to ensure we have our freedom.