(Representative Frank speaks to Dr. Greg Bonnen and Rep. Candy Noble on the House floor about legislation coming through the Human Services Committee)
Every session feels a little different as you get drawn into different issues and responsibilities. The 86th was one that was defined, for me, by my committee responsibilities and the world of healthcare that they encompassed. It's an incredibly important policy arena and, while the learning curve is steep, I am very glad that I was able to dig in during this session (and in the upcoming interim).
There may be no more important issue to Texans and how they interact with their government than on healthcare. It is a vital issue but one too often characterized by overwhelming bureaucracy, bad information, high costs, and political fear-mongering. Also, to a large degree, healthcare and health insurance (not the same thing) policy is driven at the federal government level, leaving the state a smaller room for policy maneuvering.
In this newsletter, we have highlighted the major legislation that came through the Human Services and Public Health Committees on which I served. While by no means exhaustive (Human Services had 285 bills referred to it; Public Health had 360), it is intended to provide a window into many of the issues my staff and I worked on. We have also provided a brief synopsis of HJR 38 which will, if approved by voters in November, prohibit the imposition of a state income tax in Texas.
It has been fantastic to be back home now for over a month. Hope to run into you in the district soon!
May God bless you and your family,
HJR 38 - An Income Tax in Texas? Voters Have a Chance to Say "No Way!"
Unlike 43 other states, Texas does not impose an income tax on its residents. And, while it's currently unlikely that the Legislature would vote to approve one, many of us wanted to amend the Texas Constitution to make it much more difficult for future Legislatures to impose an income tax. We did just that in HJR 38, assuming it receives voter approval in November.
Passage of HJR 38 barely happened. As laid out in the Texas Constitution, changing the constitution through joint resolutions require an affirmative vote of 2/3 of the members of each chamber as well as a vote of the people. That means that 100 yes votes are necessary in the Texas House. With only 82 Republicans, that meant a significant number of Democrats would need to support the resolution. When it came time to vote, the vote board lit up with all Republicans voting yes but only 17 Democrats. One vote short, the Speaker registered his vote (rarely done each session) and his vote was the 100th yes.
The language of the amendment is fairly straightforward. The current Article VIII, Section 24 of the Constitution (setting out the guidelines for a state income tax if approved by a majority of voters) is repealed. Instead, a new Section 24-a of Article VIII will read: "The legislature may not impose a tax on the net incomes of individuals, including an individual 's share of partnership and unincorporated association income."
On your November ballot, the language of the proposition will read: "The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual's share of partnership and unincorporated association income."
As we always do, we'll send out information about this and other constitutional amendments up for vote this November as election day approaches.
By far, the single biggest time investment for me and for my staff was in Human Services, where I was appointed Chairman. Over the course of the 86th Legislative Session, the House Committee on Human Services was referred 285 bills. 109 of those bills were voted favorably out of committee and sent to the full House for consideration. The majority of those bills originated in the House, but the committee was also tasked with analyzing and making decisions on numerous Senate bills.
There are many reasons that a bill might not make it out of committee. Sometimes the author decides to take a different approach to addressing an issue and may not request a hearing; there may also be several bills filed that accomplish the same goal. Sometimes a bill is heard in committee and testimony is provided that encourages the bill author to take a different route. Sometimes a bill is filed with great intention, but the resources are just not available to make the bill a reality at that time.
The Committee on Human Services has jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to:
- Welfare and rehabilitation programs and their development, administration, and control;
- Oversight of the Health and Human Services Commission as it relates to the subject matter jurisdiction of this committee;
- Intellectual disabilities and the development of programs incident thereto;
- The prevention and treatment of intellectual disabilities; and
- Oversight of the following state agencies: the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners, and the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors.
Here's a summary of some of the many bills we heard over the past few months:
FOSTER CARE SERVICES: We heard numerous bills on foster care services, many of which focused on preparing foster youth for success as adults. Bills were filed to create a new program partnering with community-based organizations to match foster youth in a one on-one mentor relationship, to waive fees for foster youth to obtain a driver's license or personal identification, and to partner with financial institutions to create a pilot program to assist foster youth in securing financial security.
DAY CARE: The committee considered many bills related to safety in day-care settings. These were some of the more controversial bills, as stakeholders had different views on what constitutes safety for young Texans. The committee heard testimony and debated the merits of mandatory video recording equipment in day-care facilities, recording equipment in vehicles utilized by day-cares, caregiver ratios, and the impact of employee turnover.
MEDICAID: While we heard several far-reaching Medicaid reform bills, there were also numerous bills that looked at specific segments of the Medicaid program. These included allowing women qualifying for the Medicaid transportation program to utilize the program to also bring their children with them to postpartum appointments, allowing women to remain on Medicaid for a longer period postpartum, allowing children to continue receiving care for a longer period between eligibility checks and expanding the use of telemedicine and telemonitoring in treatment of Medicaid patients.
SNAP: We heard an array of bills related to the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP). Everything from increasing work requirements required to qualify to excluding certain resources when determining eligibility. A bill has been sent to the Governor that ensures a more even distribution of SNAP benefits over the course of the month, lessening strain on retailers and providing for better availability of products to SNAP recipients. The committee also voted out a bill to create a pilot program to incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables through SNAP.
DISABILITY SERVICES: We also heard from the deaf-blind with multiple disabilities (DBMD) community. The committee worked with very talented translators who were able to interpret for these witnesses and provide the committee with important firsthand insight into the challenges faced by these individuals. The committee voted out, and the House passed 145-1, a bill to expand the number of slots available in the deaf-blind with multiple disabilities Medicaid waiver program. This program is intended as a cost effective, community based alternative to institutionalization.
My other committee assignment was on the House Committee on Public Health. The committee received 360 bills referred to it and ultimately voted 197 to the full House. From hearing about the successes of the Compassionate Use Act (medical marijuana) to the dangers of children having access to certain over-the-counter drugs, we heard passionate testimony on how each of the bills would impact the lives of Texans from every corner of the state.
Here's a summary of some of the bills that went though the Public Health Committee:
Creation of the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium (SB 10
): Although SB 10 did not pass out of the House, a majority of the language from the bill was amended onto
which did pass both chambers. SB 10 aimed to address the mental health challenges impacting Texas by improving the mental health care system through creation of the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium, a collaboration between higher education institutions, the Health and Human Services Commission, and nonprofit organizations that focus on mental health. The Consortium will facilitate access to mental health services through telehealth and the child psychiatry access network. Through funding to the specific institutions of higher education, a network of child psychiatry access centers will be created to provide consultation and training services to help care for children and youth with behavioral needs. As SB 11 passed with the language from SB 10, there will be a locally directed approach to addressing children's mental health. An important factor of both of the bills is the requirement for parental consent before mental health services are provided to a child.
Raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 (SB 21
): The use of tobacco products drastically increase the health risks and life-long impact on Texans. Each day, more than 300 minors become regular, daily smokers and almost one-third will eventually die from smoking. According to national data, nearly 90 percent of adult cigarette smokers begin smoking before they turn 18. Under SB 21, it will be illegal to purchase, sell, or possess any tobacco products for anyone under the age of 21. This will apply to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. However, there is an exemption to allow the purchase of tobacco products for adults who present a valid military identification card.
Raise the age to purchase Dextromethorphan to 21 (HB 1518
): Dextromethorphan is the drug in the majority of the over-the-counter cough medicine. According to a 2017 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 3% of twelfth graders reported using cough medicine to get high. In high doses, the drug provides hallucinogenic and intoxicating effects that may become fatal. This bill is a step towards preventing teenagers and high school students from abusing this very dangerous drug by ensuring they are unable to purchase it over-the-counter.
Expansion to the Texas Compassionate-Use Act (HB 3703
): In 2015, the state legislature passed the Texas Compassionate-Use Act to allow the prescription of low-THC cannabis to treat a patient with intractable epilepsy. Patients with intractable epilepsy could experience countless seizures every day with no help from traditional epilepsy medicine. During the House Public Health hearing on HB 3703, patients who are enrolled in the Compassionate-Use Program claimed they went from having countless daily seizures to being almost seizure free. Through the great successes of patients with certain diseases in the Compassionate-Use Program, there have been calls to expand the medical marijuana program to additional diseases. HB 3703 does this by expanding the Compassionate-Use Program to include: multiple sclerosis, spasticity, autism, and terminal cancer.
At the end of session, 92 of the 360 bills that were referred to the Public Health Committee made it through both chambers and on to Governor Abbott's desk. The next 18 months will give us a chance to watch the bills that will become law and study the bills that failed to pass before we adjourned on May 27.
Once again, thank you for the honor of being your representative. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance.
Capitol Office: District Office:
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Austin, TX 78768 Phone: (940) 767-1700
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