- Family First Services Act
In 2018, Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act, which made federal funds available for the purpose of preventing children from entering into the foster care system. These funds can be used for things like mental health services and substance abuse counseling, so that parents are able to safely keep their children in the home, while getting services that will help their families.
HB 3041 would create a pilot program for the state of Texas to begin to tap into this funding. This pilot program will allow the state to test the waters in two regions -- one rural and one urban -- and set parameters around how we can best achieve the goal of safely keeping children out of foster care. Importantly, it also makes sure that we are focusing exclusively on kids in imminent danger of entering foster care.
- We're All In This Together
During the extraordinary response to the outbreak of COVID-19, Texas issued emergency rules that restricted many different types of businesses from operating at full capacity, or at all. Restaurants, barber shops, bars, and other small businesses had to shutter their doors and were not allowed to get relief from state licensing entities for permit fees paid.
HB 3492 would prohibit the assessment of a fee, including licensing fees, on any business or nonprofit entity that is shut down by government order, either at the state or local level. If a fee had already been paid, it would allow the shut down entity to either receive a refund of the fee or credit it towards a future fee requirement.
I have heard government officials at all levels across the country make the claim that "we are all in this together" in responding to COVID-19. That statement can ring somewhat hollow when the impact of government closure orders are felt only by business owners and their workers, not by the governmental entities giving those orders. Therefore, it is time for state and local governments to shoulder some of the burden we have placed on these people, even if it is only in a small way.
HB 3501 - We're All In This Together (Taxes & Fees)
This bill takes HB 3492 one significant step further, and includes a tax exemption for businesses that have been shuttered or throttled back due to a government order.
- Telehealth Across State Lines
There are many instances and scenarios in which telehealth has proven to be a viable alternative to in-person visits. In particular, older populations and those who live in rural areas stand to benefit from increased access to telemedicine.
HB 3499 allows health professionals in other states to provide telehealth services to Texans, ensuring that we have access to the best providers, regardless of where they live. This is just one of a number of steps I hope to see Texas take this session to improve access and affordability of healthcare.
- Community-Based Care Improvement
In 2017, the Legislature passed SB 11, a comprehensive reform of the Child Protective Services (CPS) system. One key component of those reforms was community-based care. The idea behind community-based care is that local non-profits and government entities coordinate to provide child welfare services locally that increase foster care capacity.
It's no secret that I have been severely disappointed in the implementation of community-based care. HB 3691 makes several changes to improve that implementation. In particular, this bill makes it clear that the goal of community-based care is to strengthen and preserve families, thus preventing children from being unnecessarily placed into foster care. HB 3691 also calls for a clear focus on child welfare outcomes when evaluating how our community-based care providers are doing, rather than measuring inputs to the system.
- Interest Lists for Texans with an Intellectual or Developmental Disability
In an effort to serve Texans who have an intellectual or developmental disability, the state has several Medicaid waiver programs which allow us to use Medicaid funds to provide long-term care services outside of an institutional setting. This practice has meant better health and well-being outcomes for the participants themselves, and has allowed the state to serve more individuals.
Unfortunately, there is a lengthy list of individuals who are interested in getting services but for whom there are not enough waiver slots currently. Also, we do not have a clear idea of how many of those on the interest list: (a) are actually eligible for services; (b) need the services immediately or soon; and (c) most need the services. If the Legislature is going to tackle the problem of lengthy (and growing) interest lists, we have to do a better job of accurately assessing who needs what services when.
HB 3720 would work toward that goal by requiring persons on an interest list to fill out a questionnaire that includes information pertinent to their individual needs. The bill would also direct the Health and Human Services Commission to explore the possibility of creating an online portal for applicants to update their status so that the interest list picture is more current.
As the Legislature looks at ways to improve healthcare access, affordability, and patient control, it is clear that we must address the lack of competition in the health insurance market in most parts of rural Texas. HB 3752 would allow the Texas Mutual Insurance Company to offer a health insurance product for individuals and small businesses across the state. While we are still working to iron out some of the details, this new option would help drive down health insurance and health care costs for everyone.
- Texas Family Assistance Program
Building on the foundation laid in 2019's HB 1483 (Making Work Pay) to help low-income Texans along the path to self-sufficiency, HB 3905 would establish the Texas Family Assistance Program (TFAP). TFAP would allow low-income families with children to apply for monetary assistance to help with things like childcare, transportation, and food while securing living-wage employment, reducing debt, building savings, and achieving self-sufficiency without any reliance on public benefits.
Except in a very few cases, the goal of government intervention in the lives of its citizens should be a helping hand on the path to self-sufficiency--and that is what HB 3905 hopes to achieve.
- Patient Payment Nondiscrimination
HB 4051 would prohibit health care providers from charging a higher price to a cash payer than the lowest price that someone with health insurance is charged. It would also prohibit "Most Favored Nation" clauses for health insurance contracts and require transparency in negotiated rates between health insurance companies and health care providers. One of the factors in the high costs of health care is a lack of price transparency across the board. There is no real market if prices are not known--HB 4051 would go some way to addressing that and bringing transparency to an opaque, and often blatantly discriminatory, system.
& HB 4160
- Department of Family and Protective Services (DPFS) Cleanup
Every session there are bills that need to be filed to address small legal or operational issues which come up in the 18 months between session. HB 4094 fixes a couple of places in code dealing with DFPS procurement contracts and reporting.
HB 4160 would move the licensing of residential child care facilities from the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to DFPS in response to an ongoing court battle involving the Department. In full disclosure, we have not decided whether or not we actually want to pursue this change, but due to today's filing deadline, we needed to go ahead and get it on the books.
HB 4161 - Direct Potable Reuse Guidance
Saving the most exciting bill for last, HB 4161 instructs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to issue guidance on direct potable reuse.
This bill would require TCEQ to organize and put in rule the many lessons learned by the efforts of Wichita Falls during the most recent drought.