In the News, 
Out of Committee, Under the Radar

March 26, 2021

It's been a whirlwind of a week here in Austin -- many of you may have seen news articles highlighting some of the high profile (and often contentious) bills currently working their way through the Texas Legislature. Because of the intense rhetoric surrounding these issues, it can often be hard to find accurate information. The issues with the most headline ink also often drown out the very important, but less contentious legislation going through the process. So, I wanted to provide some clarity on where each of these bills stands.
The Elections Committee hearing on Thursday was the hottest ticket in town, as the committee was scheduled to hear testimony on HB 6, which is Chairman Cain's election integrity bill. As one might imagine, interested parties from all sides of the issue flocked to the Capitol to make their voices heard. The hearing abruptly came to an end when the Chair and Vice-Chair of the committee were unable to work out some differences in a timely manner. Despite the Chairman's clearly stated policy on only allowing committee members to ask questions, the Vice-Chair attempted to circumvent the rule while the Chairman was laying out his bill. This ultimately resulted in the Elections Committee adjourning for the day, and they will start the whole process over again next week.
On the same day, the State Affairs Committee was considering another high-profile bill down the hall -- HB 749 by Rep. Middleton, which would ban the use of public funds for lobbying. Essentially, this bill would bar state and local government entities from using taxpayer dollars to hire lobbyists (though it would allow counties and cities to have associations and would allow elected officials to travel to Austin to lobby on behalf of their entities). It was more than ironic that many of those who testified against the bill were lobbyists hired using taxpayer funds.
Also on Thursday and continuing into the early hours of Friday morning, the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee held a marathon hearing on a series of gun-related legislation. Of particular note, the committee heard testimony on three bills (HB 1911, HB 1238, and HB 2900) which would each allow individuals to carry a firearm without a permit -- often referred to as constitutional carry.
While most of the attention has been focused on the bills I've just mentioned, there's plenty of work happening outside of the spotlight. The first bills were voted out of the House, committees are in their fourth week of hearings, and I'm working with a number of other chairmen and members on a healthcare cost improvement plan that we feel will bring down the incredibly high price of both health insurance and overall healthcare costs in our great state. We will be discussing these plans in detail over the coming weeks as the various bills move through the committee process.

Finally, I've included some information below on vaccine distribution along with new and relaxed nursing home visitation rules that have just been released. There's also a brief update on our MSU bill. 
As always, thank you so much for allowing me to represent HD69 in the Texas Legislature.

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

Vaccine Update

Great news -- starting Monday, all Texans over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive the COVID vaccine. Click here for more information on how to get vaccinated. 

Nursing Home Visitation

I know that many of you are interested in the status of outside visitation for long-term care facilities like nursing homes, and there are two updates to provide this week. First, the Senate bill which deals with the essential caregivers program passed out of the Senate last week. I also expect us to vote the House version out of committee sometime in the next couple of weeks. Everything still looks good for the Legislature passing a law which will make sure that residents in facilities are never again kept in isolation for months on end.

More immediately, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced this week that it was further opening up visitation policies to nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and intermediate care facilities. You can see the new rules in detail by clicking the links below, but I've also provided a brief summary:

  • Vaccinated residents are essentially allowed broad visitation rights both indoors and outdoors, including close/personal contact.
  • Essential caregivers must be allowed for all residents, COVID status, and regardless of vaccination status.
  • Unvaccinated residents can also enjoy broad visitation rights unless they are in a county experiencing a high rate of infection.
  • Indoor and outdoor visitation is not restricted as long as the resident and visitor are both COVID negative. Additionally, escorts and monitoring are not required.
  • Essential caregivers must be allowed for all residents, regardless of COVID status.
I will remind that these are the state rules governing visitation. While individual facilities must allow for essential caregiver visits with very limited exceptions, there is broader flexibility on general visitation. That's why I encourage you to take a look at the specific rules for the facility your loved one is in. If you believe that a facility is not allowing visitation and should be, you may contact the Long Term Care Ombudsman at 1-800-252-2412 who can help guide you through your options.

One Step Closer

I'm happy to report that HB 1522, our bill to transfer MSU to the Texas Tech System, was unanimously voted out of the Higher Education Committee. From here, the bill will head over to the Calendars Committee, where it will be scheduled for its debut on the House Floor. 

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. 
  • 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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