Bills Moving, Commissioners Leaving, More Bills Filed

March 12, 2021

Session has officially moved into full speed as we just passed the 60-day mark (of 140). This week, I had 4 bills that were heard in their respective committees. With any luck, we will be able to get one or more of them voted out of committee next week when bills will be voted out of committees for the first time. This week (today specifically) marks the last time that any non-local bills can be filed during this legislative session. To that end, my office actually filed 11 new bills this week (a dubious Frank all-time record). I have outlined these 11 bills below so that you will know what each one does and why I filed it. You can also look at the chart further down to track all of our bills as they move (or don't move) through the legislative process. Next week, we will have just one bill heard in committee (the bill that would allow for MSU to join the Texas Tech System), but we will be seeking to get some of our bills voted out of committee and others to get their first hearing.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, the Legislature continues to investigate the recent power outages, with particular focus on the failures of both the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Many of you may have heard that ERCOT has fired CEO Bill Magness, and that several members of the PUC have resigned. While these personnel changes may be necessary, it doesn't negate the need for the Legislature to examine and fix the actual policies and structural flaws that allowed our power grid to fail so badly. In a promising first step, Speaker Phelan announced a series of bills on Monday that attempt to address many of the most obvious failures. Among the bills being proposed are:
  • HB 10, which contains language mandating that all members of the PUC are appointed, thereby eliminating the "unaffiliated" positions on the board.
  • HB 11, which requires the weatherization of all electric transmission and generation facilities in the Texas power system.
  • HB 14, which directs the Railroad Commission to adopt rules requiring gas pipeline operators to weatherize their infrastructure.  
These and other proposals will be debated and refined over the coming weeks, and I remain optimistic that we will ultimately arrive at an array of common-sense solutions. 

Finally, our work in both the Human Services committee and the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues committee is off to a strong start. We heard testimony on a handful of bills this week (including our Essential Caregivers Act and Child Trauma Reduction Act,) and we will hear several more bills next Monday and Tuesday. 

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

New Bills

HB 3041 - 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. 

HB 3492 - 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. 

HB 3499 - 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. 

HB 3691 - 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.

HB 3720 - 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.
HB 3752 - Texas Mutual Health Plan

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.

HB 3905 - 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. 

HB 4051 - 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 4094 & 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.  

Bill Tracker

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. 
  • A mask must be worn over the mouth and nose while in the building.
  • 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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