The Final Countdown, Protecting Kids,
Almost Home 
 
May 21, 2021

Last week we crossed the first major deadline of session as we voted the final House Bills out of the chamber, and now we are rapidly approaching the last day to vote out Senate Bills (this coming Tuesday). After that deadline has passed, we will spend most of our time voting out conference reports, which are the products of the negotiations that occur when the House and Senate vote out different versions of a bill. 

The biggest outstanding item is the budget. If you'll remember, the House passed our version of the budget back in April, and negotiations have been taking place between House and Senate appropriators ever since. All signs point to these talks being successful, so I'm optimistic that we will have a balanced, conservative budget headed to the Governor's desk on time. 

Outside of the budget, we are continuing to push legislation that improves child welfare outcomes across the state. We've made some great progress on this issue over the last few months, and I'm hopeful that we will get a couple more bills across the finish line. Those interested can find an overview of some of these reforms below.

While I have genuinely enjoyed this session and feel that we've accomplished some really good things, I am looking forward to being back in Wichita Falls. One of my favorite parts of returning home is meeting with various clubs, groups, and individuals to recap the last several months and get your feedback. Anyone interested in setting up a meeting can shoot an email to Jim Johnson, my Chief of Staff, at jim.johnson@house.texas.gov.

Finally, Alisha, my wife, is an amazing lady and partner in every part of my life. Yesterday, we celebrated our 32nd anniversary, though it once again took a bit of a backseat to the craziness of the final days of session. I hope to make it up to her soon as we prepare to return home.

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

 
Child Welfare Recap

If you've been following along with our newsletters, you know that one of our major priorities has been improving the child welfare system. In particular, there has been a big push to ensure that removing children from the home is the last resort. To that end, there are five major bills in the child welfare arena that I believe will make a lasting, positive impact on children and families in Texas.

HB 567 (which became law this week) 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.

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.

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 2374 seeks to ensure DFPS is achieving beneficial outcomes for children and families in a cost-effective manner by providing for an efficiency audit during the 2022 state fiscal year and every fourth year thereafter. This audit will look at fiscal management, efficiency, utilization of resources, and outcomes to ensure the agency is putting resources towards its purpose -- protecting children.

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.
 
Senate Bills

When a bill comes over from the Senate, a Member of the House will act as its sponsor, doing the work to get it passed through the chamber. This session we've picked up a number of Senate bills, which we've outlined below.

SB 25 is the Senate companion to our Essential Caregivers bill ensuring that residents in long-term care facilities are not denied the right to see their loved ones. This bill will be heard on the House floor on 5/23.

SB 905 instructs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to issue guidance on direct potable reuse. This bill would require TCEQ to organize and put in rule the many lessons learned by the efforts of Wichita Falls during the most recent drought in order to help other cities that wish to create a DPR project. SB 905 has passed both chambers and is on its way to the Governor's desk.

SB 910 seeks to establish the parameters under which DFPS is required to study and develop a list of options for implementing services under the Family First Prevention Services Act. Should be on the calendar next week.

SB 1136 seeks to reduce Medicaid recipients' use of hospital emergency room services as a primary means of receiving health care benefits and increase access to primary care providers. Will be heard on the House floor on Sunday. 

SB 1578 is the bill mentioned above relating to the Forensic Assessment Center Network and should be voted out of the House on 5/23.

SB 1896 is the bill mentioned above relating to reforming certain DFPS practices and is on the calendar for the House floor on Sunday.

SB 2122 requires that a medical provider send an itemized bill prior to attempting to collect any money from a patient. The bill must include an itemized list of each medical service and supply provided, the amount the provider will accept as payment in full for that service, a plain language description of the service, and information about billing codes and payments made by a third party if one is involved. Unfortunately this bills looks to be dead as we were unable to get it voted out of committee.

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. This bill is scheduled to come to the House floor on Monday.


Important Dates


We've put together this flowchart as a handy reminder of the important deadlines. As you can see, we are quickly approaching the final days of session. 



Bill Tracker
 

COVID-19 Protocols at the Capitol

If you are planning to visit the Capitol during this last month of session, 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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