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May 27, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Children's Medicaid
Simplification Proposal Approved

AUSTIN - On the last day to take action on legislation, the Senate approved a compromise proposal that would simplify the Medicaid eligibility process for children.

The Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 43 is intended to reduced the number of children in Texas who are not covered by health insurance, said Laredo Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the author of the bill.

"The bill simplifies the procedures for certification and re-certification for children's Medicaid," Zaffirini said. "Since authoring this bill, my intent has been clear -- to deliver the same ease of enrollment found in CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) for the children of Texas in need of health care. We have far too many children that are without health insurance in Texas due to the existing lack of coordination between programs and the difficult enrollment process."

One of the key provisions of CSSB 43 is the elimination of a face-to-face interview that is currently required during the application process.

"The number of uninsured children will be reduced under (CS) SB 43," Zaffirini said. "The bill serves to prevent future health problems in children by investing in their well-being today."

Also today, the Senate approved the school employee health insurance compromise proposal.

Amarillo Sen. Teel Bivins, the sponsor of Senate Bill (SB) 3343 and the chair of the education committee, said the bill will mean that every public school teacher and employee in Texas will have access to health insurance.

The bill, which was developed after numerous hearings this session and during the interim, would provide five levels of coverage from which teachers and employees can choose.

Bivins said the bill does not provide the level of coverage that many had wanted, but it does represent progress and, at least, a starting place.

"This is a huge first step," Bivins said. "We've got a (vehicle) that gets us down the road."

Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan called the bill a "major accomplishment," which he said will help Texas attract and retain teachers to address the teacher shortage in the state.

"Employees will not stay with an employer if they don't have adequate fringe benefits," Truan said.

The Senate also today approved compromise legislation that would increase the level of compensation for persons wrongfully accused of a crime and imprisoned.

"Texas has stood up to right a wrong," said Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis, the author of the measure, CSSB 536. "Sometimes it's not enough just to say, 'I'm sorry.' When such a life-altering mistake has been made, the state clearly has a moral obligation to help give wrongfully imprisoned Texans the opportunity to rebuild their lives."

The bill would allow a person wrongfully imprisoned to receive as much as $25,000 for each year spent in prison.

Another option available under the bill would allow a wrongfully imprisoned person to seek compensation that can include lost wages, salary or other economic damages, counseling and medical expenses incurred as a result of being convicted and legal expenses.

If a person is compensated under either of the two options, the right to additional legal action is waived. The compensation level is capped at $500,000.

Under current law, compensation to wrongfully imprisoned persons is capped at $25,000 for medical expenses and $25,000 for physical and mental pain and suffering.

"Compassion is not a sign of weakness. It is a hallmark of justice," Ellis said. "This common sense reform sends a signal that Texas will stand up to right a wrong."

Also in today's session, the Senate approved compromise agreements on SB 8, which would require insurance companies to pay for female-specific procedures at rates comparable to what is payed for other procedures.

The Senate also approved an agreement on the Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 2912, which focuses on the role of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The bill includes an amendment that would require grandfathered manufacturing and petrochemical plants to meet current emissions rules.

The Senate stands adjourned until 10:00 a.m. Monday.

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