Improving Healthcare, Moving Forward, Scoring Touchdowns

April 9, 2021

It seems like things are running more smoothly so far this session, but I don't know if that's actually true or if being my fifth time around, I'm just not sweating some of the inevitable frustrations that come with the 140-day sprint. The floor calendars are starting to get much longer and committees still have a few more weeks to hear House bills, so this is truly the busiest part of the session. We did take time for a bit of fun on Wednesday as the member vs. member flag football game took place. Other than sore muscles, pulled muscles, and hurt pride, everyone escaped unscathed. Thankfully, the older members beat the first and second term team (and I was able to haul in a TD on Darrell K. Royal Field at UT).

As I've mentioned before, improving healthcare and driving down costs is a major priority this legislative session. To that end, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Speaker Phelan, introduced the Healthy Families, Healthy Texas (HFHT) plan. This package of bills will ensure that healthcare in Texas is more accessible and affordable for all 29 million Texans. 

Included in the HFHT plan is my bill (HB 3752) to allow the Texas Mutual Insurance Company to offer health insurance products to Texas residents and small businesses. For those unfamiliar, Texas Mutual was originally created by the state legislature to act as a source of affordable workers' compensation insurance, thus providing consumers with more options and leading to more competitive pricing. Texas Mutual has been successful in accomplishing its original mission, and it is my hope that it can have the same disruptive affect on a health insurance marketplace that currently suffers from a lack of competition in many parts of the state. 

Also included in the HFHT plan are bills to protect consumers from surprise medical billing. Of note, HB 2487 by Rep. Tom Oliverson would require hospitals to disclose prices for medical services in advance of delivery. HB 4115, also by Rep. Oliverson, would provide similar protections to prevent against surprise billing by ambulance service providers. 

In total, there are 12 bills included in the package, and those interested can find the full list here. I'm proud of the work we're doing on this important subject, and I look forward to getting these bills passed in the coming weeks. 

Outside of healthcare-related bills, there's plenty of other important legislation working its way through the House. One I'll mention is HB 1239 by Representative Sanford, which would prohibit the state from forcing places of worship to close their doors in future declared emergencies. Like many, I feel that the state overstepped its authority by shuttering churches in response to the COVID pandemic. This bill will hopefully ensure that this type of government overreach never happens again. Just so you know, I firmly believe that there may be time in the future where people should not gather for worship at churches, mosques or temples, but that should always be the decision of the religious organization and the individual, not the government. I find it quite ironic that many of the people who insist on the freedom of the press to travel and report without government interference, seem to have such difficulty understanding other people's very strong feelings about the freedom to worship.

Additionally, many people have reached out to our office about HB 6, which deals with election integrity. I know that this is a highly charged partisan issue, and I've seen a lot of incorrect information floating around. We wanted to provide a brief explanation of what the bill does and give you the opportunity to read it for yourself. 

In brief, HB 6 contains several provisions to help ensure that our elections are fair and secure. First, the bill safeguards the rights of poll watchers to observe elections and report any irregularities. It also includes measures to expedite consideration of election-related suits in court. There are provisions to ensure the names of the deceased are swiftly removed from the rolls, to prohibit the distribution of mail-in ballots to those who have not requested one, and to create a criminal penalty for those who vote in multiple states on the same day. I believe that each of these steps will strengthen election security and boost public confidence in the validity of election results. At the end of the day, it should be EASY TO VOTE AND HARD TO CHEAT.

Finally, a few of our bills were heard and passed out of their respective committees this week, and I've included descriptions below. I've also included some resources for those interested in staying more plugged-in to what's happening at your Texas Capitol.

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

ERS Increasing Payment Option

This week we had the opportunity to introduce HB 2936 in the Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee.

State employee retirees have a wide variety of fiscal situations at the time of their retirements. Some are able to keep working in the non-state sector for a number of years after retirement or have a spouse who continues to work. Others are in a situation where their retirement means a drastically reduced income. All face a financial reality of a world where the cost-of-living increases year after year. 

Currently, there is no option within the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS) for people in these different fiscal situations to leverage a smaller annuity up-front in exchange for a predictable, regular increase in their annuity to help offset inflation.

HB 2936 would address this lack of choice by requiring ERS to develop an increasing payment option for most standard ERS retirees. This option would offer a gradually increasing annuity payment to allow the monthly benefit to grow over time as costs of living increase--and when most retirees are unable to obtain other outside employment. The option would be calculated to be actuarially neutral so that the benefit is reduced from a standard retiree at the onset of retirement.

In short, this is simply another option for retirees to choose from and will hopefully benefit those who choose it. I appreciate the quick action taken by the Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee. 

Out of Committee

Two of our bills were also voted out of the Human Services Committee this week: HB 2658 and HB 3041.

HB 2658 makes a series of changes to Medicaid contracts, procedures and policies in order to re-align funding, reduce administrative complexity and provide for flexibility in the managed care program.

HB 3041 implements federal funding made available through the Family First Preservation Services Act to allow children to remain safely at home with their parents as a direct alternative to removal into state conservatorship through the delivery of evidence-based services to families who are reported to DFPS.

Stay in the Loop

I've often said that while the state legislature may not capture the media and attention that Congress does, what happens here may actually have a greater impact on your day-to-day life. 

Those interested in following along more closely may find the Texas Legislature Online website useful. The site offers a number of helpful functions, including:
  • The ability to view upcoming committee hearings (here)
  • The ability to lookup a bill's text, author, status, etc. (here)
  • The ability to set up alerts for bills pertaining to certain topics (here)
  • A list of legislative resources available to the public (here)

Photos of the Week

Speaking at the Healthy Families, Healthy Texas Press Conference

Biennial Texas House Football Game (The only time you'll catch me in a burnt orange jersey)

Managed to sneak my Aggie gloves into DKR Stadium

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 but are gradually heading toward normalcy once again. 

You may find the following information useful as your plan your visit:
  • My office is always open to constituents. 
  • 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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