Sine Die,
A Busy Week,
Memorial Day 
 
May 31, 2021

Today is Sine Die, which marks the end of the 87th Legislative Session. While we have made real, important progress this session, it is definitely time to return home. I'm looking forward to spending time with family and friends and meeting with people across the district. 

Backing up a bit, we passed some of the most consequential bills of session this past week (and failed to pass one really big one -- more on that later). In particular, the House and Senate were able to come to an agreement and pass the budget. We provided a more in-depth overview in a previous newsletter, but some of the highlights of the budget include:
  • Increasing public education funding to $46.5 billion for the biennium, including $664 million in programs targeted to overcoming pandemic-related learning loss
  • Investing in the health of Texans by increasing funding for rural hospitals, women's health programs, and disability services
  • Significant investment in infrastructure, including new funds to repair highways and bridges and an increase in funding for the oversight of our electric grid
  • Salary increases for law enforcement officers and additional funding to secure the border and combat human trafficking
Outside of the budget, several other meaningful bills were passed this week. SB 2 will increase oversight of ERCOT, ensuring that our grid operators are held to high standards. SB 3, designed to weatherize and strengthen the electric grid, is also headed to the Governor's desk. Additionally, SB 25 and SJR 19 passed this week establishing the right of residents in long-term care facilities to designate an essential caregiver. 

Sunday night on the House floor, I was disappointed that nearly all of the Democrats chose to abdicate a basic responsibility of being a member--show up to represent your district. By leaving the House floor and the Capitol itself, these members prevented the House from having a quorum (100 members present) which means that we cannot vote on legislation. We are supposed to be here for 140 days to get our biennial work done-whether we agree with policies or not. Fortunately, this is likely to have little or no long-term impact in the larger scheme as we will certainly take up the issue of election integrity in a special session later on this year. Ultimately, I expect that the Texas House will end up passing legislation in the next few months that is every bit as strong as SB 7.

While this will be our final weekly newsletter of session, we will be sending out a special end-of-session edition at some point in the next couple weeks. We'll give a recap of passed legislation in major policy areas, our own legislation, and provide a look-ahead at the interim.   

Finally, I hope each of you had a good Memorial Day weekend, surrounded by loved ones. I'm incredibly grateful for the courageous men and women who gave their lives for our freedom. May we never forget their valiant sacrifice. 

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

 
The Final Push

In the whirlwind of this last week (which ended a period of being at the Capitol 14 of the last 15 days), we were able to pull the last of our legislation across the finish line. The following bills are now set to become law, pending the Governor's signature:

SB25 and SJR19 will ensure that no vulnerable Texans are forced into isolation and cut off from their loved ones as happened in far too many cases over this past year. They do this by securing the right of residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to designate an essential caregiver who cannot be prohibited from making personal, physical contact with that resident.

SB25 outlines the framework for designating and providing access to essential caregivers. SJR19 is the constitutional amendment that, if ratified, would establish access to an essential caregiver as a constitutional right. Amendments to the Texas Constitution must be approved by voters, so please look for it to appear as a question on the general election ballot in November.

After the heartbreak and loneliness that so many of our elderly experienced during the pandemic, I hope that voters will see the value in passing this amendment and protecting our loved ones.

HB 547 is finally on its way to the Governor's desk after being amended in the Senate and then passed again in the House. Under current law, home schooled students are prohibited from participating in UIL activities as part of their local school's team or organization. HB 547 would change that by giving local school boards the option of allowing interested homeschool students the opportunity to participate in those activities.

HB 1522 finalizes MSU's membership in the TTU System and outlines all the changes in funding, oversight, etc. that will have to take place.

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 authorizes a pilot program to implement federal funding made available through the Family First Preservation Services Act. This will 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. Importantly, it defines the available participants as those at immediate risk of entering the system in order to focus on providing services without resorting to actual removal from homes.

HB 3720 will improve the interest list process for Medicaid waiver programs that are allow us to use Medicaid funds to provide long-term care services outside of an institutional setting.  Unfortunately, there is a lengthy list of individuals who are interested in getting services but for whom there are not enough waiver slots currently.  HB 3720 would work toward reducing the wait list 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 will allow the Texas Mutual Insurance Company to offer health insurance products to Texas residents and small businesses, including high-deductible catastrophic care or other innovative options. By bringing in additional competition and allowing Texans more choices, HB 3752 is one piece of the larger effort by the Legislature to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for all Texans, and give patients more control over their healthcare.

SB 1578 directs DFPS, in collaboration with the Texas Children's Commission, to evaluate how its caseworkers currently use the Forensic Assessment Center Network (FACN). The network was designed to provide medical determinations and consultations in cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. This bill will ensure that FACN stays true to its original mission of providing guidance -- not serving as the ultimate authority on whether a child should be removed from a parent.

SB 1896 makes substantive reforms to the Department of Family and Protective Services regarding the safety and well-being of children placed in foster care. In particular, this bill takes steps to ensure children are adequately housed and cared for, and not left sleeping in offices or other inappropriate settings. There are also provisions in the bill to give DFPS greater flexibility with respect to contracts and placements with the intent of addressing the statewide placement shortage. A comprehensive bill, it also makes changes to Community-Base Care to help implementation and oversight of that process.

SB 2158 codifies the collaboration between public schools and the National Child Identification Program to promote and provide inkless, in-home fingerprint and DNA identification kits to parents or guardians of children in K-8th grade.

Photo of the Week



Celebrating passage of the Essential Caregivers Bills with Senator Lois Kolkhorst

Bill Tracker
 
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