E-News from the Office of Senator Van de Putte
Things are heating up here in Austin during the legislative session. In fact, I am pleased to inform you that two of my bills have already been signed into law by Governor Perry.
Last week the Senate approved a $152.2 billion dollar budget. The budget includes numerous appropriations which will prove beneficial to San Antonio including the following:
- $575 million dollars towards the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This is an increase of $240 million dollars, intended to reduce the amount of uninsured children and provide coverage for prenatal care.
- $15.5 billion dollars towards Medicaid. This is a $2.1 billion dollar increase to be used towards case load growth and reimbursement rate restoration for health providers.
- $6 million dollars to be awarded to the Department of Health and Human Services to be used for services at the new Haven for Hope. This facility will serve the homeless, including veterans, suffering from mental health illness or substance abuse issues and it will be located in San Antonio.
- $150.1 million additional dollars to Child Protective Services (CPS); these funds will be used to increase staff and resources to better serve our children.
- $6 million dollars to be used for the San Antonio Life Science Institute (SALSI), a joint research program of the University of Texas Health Science Center and the University of Texas at San Antonio. SALSI has already brought numerous projects to San Antonio, including the creation of the Central Texas Aging Consortium. The Institute will continue to make San Antonio an internationally recognized leader in providing quality health-care and contribute to our economy.
- $2.8 billion additional dollars to public education including equalized enrichment, teacher salaries and high school allotments plus an increased state contribution to the Teacher Retirement System of 6.7 percent.
- $130 million dollar increase to higher education financial aid to serve an additional 63,556 students by 2009 plus $84 million dollars to meet the rapid enrollment growth of our higher education institutions.
The Senate and House must now negotiate on the budget and reach a final decision by May 28, 2007. The House approved a $150.1 billion budget.
Senate Bill 90, which I authored, has been signed in to law and will take effect on September 1, 2007. Representative Frank Corte filed the companion bill, House Bill 17. The bill establishes a pilot program to help address military voters' problems. According to a report released to Congress by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, there is a 33 percent rate of disenfranchisement among military and overseas voters and many of these problems stem from the ballots experiencing delays when traveling through overseas and military mail systems.
This bill allows a county clerk or election administrator in Texas to e-mail a blank ballot to a military voter if the voter is outside the United States, cutting in half the amount of time the ballot spends in the postal system. The bill incorporates several measures to safeguard the integrity of the voting process. It provides election administrators and county clerks an additional tool to do their jobs, and provides military voters whose ballot was lost in the mail a second chance to vote.
I am especially thankful to Jacque Callanen, Bexar County Elections Administrator, for her assistance with this legislation. During the last presidential election there were actually 13,800 military voters in Bexar County who would be affected by SB 90.
It is so important that our service members be able to participate in the democracy they are sacrificing to protect. Voting is a cherished American right that should be available to these patriots.
Senate Bill 495, which I authored, has also been signed into law effective immediately. Representative Joe Straus filed the companion bill, House Bill 1217. The bill allows municipally owned electric utilities (MOUs) to enter into hedging contracts for certain commodities. Since 1999, state law has permitted MOUs to hedge the price of fuel oil, natural gas and purchased electric energy. Since then, MOUs have actively used this authority to enter into hedging contracts to protect their customers from unnecessary price fluctuations and to stabilize their fuel and electricity prices.
Now, because of market volatility, this authority needs to be extended to allow MOUs to also use hedging contracts for coal, nuclear fuel and fuel-related transportation costs. Prices for coal, nuclear fuel and fuel-related transportation have become increasingly volatile since the original law was enacted in 1999. MOUs now need the ability to hedge these commodities.
In 2005, CPS Energy produced 77 percent of its energy from coal brought in from Wyoming and nuclear power from the South Texas Nuclear Plant. This legislation would assist them in managing the increasing price volatility of coal, transportation costs and nuclear fuel, thereby maintaining prices for the consumer.
This bill does not extend any advantage to the MOUs, but simply allows them to use the same hedging instruments for risk management which are commonly used by investor owned utilities and independent power-producers.
NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES (NCSL)
In my capacity as NCSL President, I recently submitted comments on key issues regarding income security and family support to the Chair and Ranking member of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee.
Legislators are very concerned over recent changes to programs assisting low-income families that represent a shift away from real state/federal partnerships in serving our nation's struggling families and vulnerable children, including the reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. NCSL urges the federal government to take steps to preserve state flexibility in the critically needed programs that serve low-income children and families. State legislators believe that states have made good use of federal child support and TANF funding, and that states will continue to work to help families escape poverty.
COVER THE UNINSURED WEEK
More than 46 million Americans are living without health insurance and nine million of them are children. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured families in the nation, with 31.2 percent. In San Antonio, 26.4 percent or 372,000 residents are uninsured, making us the state's third largest uninsured city. In fact, 27 percent of our children have no health insurance. Additionally, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) families continue to lose coverage due to inadequacies with the state's new system. Medicaid enrollments continue to decline and seniors are still confused about the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan options.
I filed Senate Bill 81, Representative Turner filed the companion bill, House Bill 109, and Senator Averitt filed Senate Bill 67, which are all intended to improve the CHIP package for Texas children by eliminating the barriers that families have encountered when applying or renewing their applications for coverage.
Only two years after Texas initiated the CHIP Program, enrollment of children in the program was at its highest, 529,211. However, after the 2003 Legislative Session and the substantial cuts to healthcare, the drop in children enrolled in CHIP from September 2003 until October 2006 decreased approximately 40 percent. Texas lost over $832 million dollars in federal matching funds; it is estimated that a pending $20 million will probably be lost for fiscal year 2006.
It is neither prudent nor efficient as a state to leave federal dollars that we can draw down on the table for other states to use. CHIP must be returned to its original design. We must recommit to ensuring that all of our children have the opportunity to live healthy lives. CHIP is merely one program that allows for this, our children deserve no less.
This week is Cover the Uninsured Week and local advocates are holding awareness events to get San Antonian's covered. A full schedule of events can be found at http://www.covertheuninsured.org
I will continue to keep you updated, as developments occur. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns.
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR VAN DE PUTTE
700 N. St. Mary's St. #1725
San Antonio, Texas 78205
(210) 733-6605 - fax