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May 10, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Senate Action Addresses
Nursing Home Issues

AUSTIN - A bill focusing on problems in the nursing home industry was narrowly passed by the Senate today after a long debate.

The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 1839 "addresses the crisis facing the long-term care industry in Texas," said Fort Worth Sen. Mike Moncrief, the bill's author and the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. "This act includes extraordinary measures that are necessary to address the emergency in this state."

Moncrief said he and the bill's co-author, Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan, combined parts of several bills focusing on the nursing home industry within CSSB 1839. The bill also includes provisions for quality of care monitoring and dealing with violations.

Other components of CSSB 1839 focusing on liability insurance rates and availability, especially a quality assurance charge to be levied on nursing home operators, sparked a sharp debate.

The charge would be used to lower liability insurance rates by reducing the number of claims, with the goal of further reducing rates by increasing the numbers of insurers operating in Texas, Moncrief said. There is currently only one company writing liability insurance for nursing homes.

The quality assurance charge would be capped at six percent of the per-bed rate charged by the specific home.

Although the fee would be paid by nursing home operators, several senators objected because they said the cost would be passed on to nursing home residents. Flower Mound Sen. Jane Nelson said she did not want to add more to the cost of nursing home care, citing the $5,000 a month already charged by the facility where her mother lives.

Moncrief and Duncan debated the bill with several other senators, often challenging them to come up with a better idea to improve the situation in the nursing home industry, which Moncrief said is near collapse.

After a lengthy and sometimes heated debate, the bill was finally passed on an 18-11 vote.

The Senate considered only two other bills in today's session, passing House Bill (HB) 1640 and CSSB 557.

HB 1640, sponsored by Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan, would authorize the creation of a pharmacy school at Texas A&M University at Kingsville. Truan cited a recent state study that found a shortage in pharmacists in the border region as the reason for creating the new pharmacy school.

"Currently, there are no public pharmacy schools in the border region," Truan said. "A pharmacy school in South Texas will help the shortage of pharmacists in the area."

The Kingsville pharmacy school would be the first professional graduate school of any kind in the region of the state south of San Antonio.

CSSB 557, authored by Dallas Sen. John Carona, would allow the City of Dallas to establish a system for the payment of overtime and compensatory time for Dallas police officers.

Earlier today, the members of the Senate met as the Committee of the Whole Senate to consider plans for redrawing their own districts. Senate Redistricting Committee Chair Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio has put forward a proposal for consideration, but two plans developed by Waco Sen. David Sibley were also discussed.

Sibley's two plans were soundly criticized by members of the Senate Democratic Caucus when introduced on Wednesday. The debate continued today, particularly on Senate districts in Hidalgo County and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

The Committee of the Whole Senate is scheduled to meet again at 8 a.m. Friday. After that, the Senate will stand in recess for the day to allow the members to focus on committee work. Tomorrow is the deadline for Senate committees to take action on bills.

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