Better Broadband, Permanent Telehealth, First Visitors

March 19, 2021

Last Friday, we gave you an overview of the 23 bills that I have filed this session.  Starting this week, I want to discuss some of the many other issues that are being worked on in the Texas House. I have frequently said that while the federal government makes the news, the issues worked on by the state and local governments usually have much more impact on your day-to-day life.
The ERCOT/PUC/electric grid issue continues to rightfully make headlines and will be front and center throughout this session. While it is important that we move quickly, I hope most people understand the need to fully investigate and carefully craft any "solutions" to this very serious issue. While this issue has grabbed most of the attention, there are a myriad of other critical issues that we will be addressing over the remaining 10 weeks left in session, including election integrity, healthcare access and affordability, school funding, and the state's unemployment system (and funding reserves). We'll talk in detail about those topics in upcoming newsletters.

However, this week I wanted to highlight two House Speaker priority bills that I fully support: HB 4 (Telehealth Continuity) and HB 5 (Broadband Access). HB 4 would allow Texas to permanently extend telehealth options that were expanded during COVID when in-person visitation was dramatically scaled back. HB 5 creates a new state office designed to map out the areas of the state with the greatest need for broadband access and direct money towards increasing broadband development in those areas. You can read more about each of these bills below.

Finally, this week we were able to welcome a few visitors from back home. President Shipley and other officials from Midwestern State University made the trip to attend the hearing on our bill to make MSU part of the Texas Tech System. We also had the privilege of welcoming Stephanie and Gonzalo Robles from Wichita Falls. I'm hopeful that more folks from HD-69 will stop by as the session progresses.   

May God bless you and your family,
James B. Frank Signature
James B. Frank

HB 4 - Telehealth Continuity

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many doctors' offices and clinics to temporarily close their doors or severely limit in-person visitation, the State of Texas granted waivers to allow for increased access to telehealth options. In particular, these waivers allowed many of the programs provided by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to be delivered remotely. The list of services impacted by these waivers includes Early Childhood Intervention, the Children with Special Health Care Needs Program, nutritional counseling services, and physical, occupational, and speech therapy. 

HB 4 by Representative Four Price would make these waivers permanent, thus allowing HHSC to continue offering telehealth alternatives in addition to their traditional services. This is great news for those in rural areas and those with limited mobility who may find it difficult to travel to their healthcare providers. 

More generally speaking, we need additional affordable options for healthcare. Broad access to telehealth options obviously allows for greater access to care, but it can also help bring down costs as individuals have a cheaper option that still meets their needs. I am in full support of this bill and the flexibility it will provide to patients. 

HB 5 - Broadband For Texans

One thing that COVID made crystal clear is that we live in an age where access to reliable internet is essential. For many people now, schools, jobs, shopping -- even church -- all contain online components. But, because Texas is such a large state, there are still places without access to affordable, reliable broadband.

HB 5 by Representative Trent Ashby would create the Broadband Development Office within the Office of the Comptroller, with the authority to oversee the State Broadband Plan. Through this plan, federal, state, and private dollars would be targeted directly to the areas in the state that need the most assistance with broadband development. Funneling resources to the areas with the biggest need is the quickest way to ensure that every Texan is able to fully participate in modern society. 

Bill Tracker

Photos of the Week

I am proud to show our first picture of constituent visitors for the session--Stephanie and Gonzalo Robles were in Austin to discuss higher education legislation filed this session.  

HB 1522 received a hearing on Thursday, where committee members had the opportunity to hear testimony on our bill to make MSU Texas part of the Texas Tech System. I expect this bill to receive broad support when it comes up for a vote.

COVID-19 Protocols at the Capitol

If you are planning to visit the Capitol during the next few months, I encourage you to contact my Austin office (512-463-0534) to get the latest updates on health and safety protocols before making the trip down.  The rules are constantly changing. 

You may find the following information useful as your plan your visit:
  • My office is always open to constituents. 
  • The Capitol is open from 9am - 6 pm, Monday - Friday.
  • The House Gallery will be open to the public at reduced capacity.
  • Committee hearings will be open to the public both in-person and virtually. 
  • There are no public tours, groups, or sponsored event spaces.
  • All visitors must enter the Capitol through the north door.
  • COVID-19 rapid testing is available prior to entering the Capitol (located outside, north of the building).
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