First Hearing, Governor's Order, New Bills

March 5, 2021

This has been the been the busiest week of the session thus far, as most committees met for the first time, including Human Services. We heard testimony from officials with the Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of Family and Protective Services, and the Behavioral Health Executive Council. This was a great opportunity to get an update from each agency before we begin to consider new legislation that will impact their operations. 

As most of you probably know, Governor Abbott announced on Tuesday that Texas will remove all capacity restrictions on businesses and lift the state-wide mask mandate. This order is effective as of Wednesday, March 10th. A few notes on this executive order: First, businesses reserve the right to set their own safety protocols and may continue to limit capacity and require masks if they so choose. Second, county judges may impose capacity limits back down to 50% in the event of high local hospitalization rates. Third, this executive order does not affect visitation rules at long-term care facilities.

That last point is unfortunate, as it perpetuates the confusion and isolation that many residents of long-term care facilities and their loved ones have faced for almost an entire year. To that end, I am more determined than ever to pass HB 892, The Essential Caregivers Act. As I've previously mentioned, this bill would ensure that those in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care facilities have in-person access to a designated essential caregiver. If the companion bill, HJR 46, passes then it will be placed on the ballot for possible inclusion in the Texas Constitution. I've included more details on Essential Caregivers below, along with information on my other bill that will receive a hearing next week.

We filed two new bills this week, one relating to Medicaid and the other relating to the Employees Retirement System of Texas. While neither of these bills are likely to grab headlines or tons of attention, they both make important changes that will allow the programs to serve their respective clients better. You can read more about the bills below. 

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

New Bills

HB 2658 - Medicaid Efficiency

This bill will make improvements to Medicaid to cut out unnecessary red tape, improve efficiency and ensure that resources in the Medicaid program are going to better take care of patients, especially children. These programs must be run as efficiently and effectively as possible, as we are providing healthcare for many of the most vulnerable Texans. 

HB 2936 - ERS Cost-of-Living Adjustment Option

This bill will create a cost-of-living adjustment option for retirees in the Employees Retirement System of Texas. Eligible members would have the option to choose between the standard annuity and the new, adjusted annuity. Under the adjusted option, members' benefits would be reduced in the early period after retirement and increase over time, serving as a type of cost-of-living adjustment. 

In Committee Next Week

I've said it many times, but committees are where the brunt of the work is done in the Texas Legislature. Before a bill can be considered on the House floor, it must first make it out of its assigned committee. The first step in getting a bill reported out of committee is to receive a hearing. I'm pleased to report that four of my bills will receive a hearing next week.

HB 567 - Child Trauma Reduction Act

On Monday, the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee will hear testimony on HB 567 - the Child Trauma Reduction Act.

The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is tasked with protecting Texas children from maltreatment and carries out this mission by removing children who have suffered from abuse or neglect from their homes. Research has shown that children suffer trauma when they are needlessly removed from their homes and placed in foster care-even for a short time. The majority of these removals are due to allegations of neglect; however, this type of maltreatment is often rooted in issues of poverty rather than a blatant disregard for safety or an intentional act by the parent. The statutory guidelines that DFPS relies upon for removing children and terminating parental rights must be clear to avoid traumatizing children and creating unnecessary burdens on families.   

House Bill 567 seeks to reduce the cycle of trauma that many children experience in foster care by clarifying procedures and grounds in the Family Code that DFPS and the courts rely upon when making life-altering decisions concerning the removal of children into foster care and termination of parental rights.

HB 892 & HJR 46 - Essential Caregivers Act

On Tuesday, the Human Services Committee will hear HB 892 and HJR 46 - the dual components of the Essential Caregivers Act. 

Due to COVID-19, many families have been denied any personal visits with loved-ones who live in long-term care facilities since the beginning of the pandemic. Visiting family members or friends so often play an important role in providing emotional support to residents, as well as protecting them from unseen abuse and neglect, and advocating for their needs.

Together, House Bill 892 and House Joint Resolution 46 codify the rights of nursing home or assisted living residents to designate an essential caregiver who cannot be prohibited from making personal, physical contact with that person. The bill seeks to ensure that no vulnerable Texans are cut off from essential care and support of their loved ones while also minimizing disease spread.

HB 547 - Equal UIL Access

On Tuesday, the Public Education Committee will hear testimony on HB 547 - the Equal UIL Access Act.

Currently, homeschool students are prohibited from participating in public school extracurricular activities, even though their tax-dollars help fund the programs.

HB 547 would end this discrimination by granting homeschool students full access to the extracurricular activities at their local public schools, provided they meet grade-level scores on standardized tests.

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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