E-News from the Office of Senator Van de Putte
It has been another busy week here in Austin and I have several bills I would like to highlight for you.
"Senator Frank Madla Act"
I am so proud to tell you that the Senate passed the Senator Frank Madla Act last week. I authored the bill (SB 338) and it was co-authored by Senators Averitt, Gallegos, Harris, Hinojosa, Janek, Lucio, Uresti, West and Zaffirini. Representative Rob Eissler filed the companion bill, House Bill 861.
The bill, which is named in honor of Senator Madla at the request of Helen Madla, would require each one-family or two-family dwelling that begins construction on or after January 1, 2008 to be equipped with a smoke detector. It also would require each one-family or two-family dwelling, where there is a transfer of ownership to be equipped with a smoke detector. The bill also requires the Texas Department of Insurance to provide fire safety information to the consumers, including the availability of carbon monoxide detectors.
I am so pleased to see Senator Madla's legacy lives on, as we seek to further protect Texas families in his name.
"Cervical Cancer Vaccine Information Act"
This week the Health and Human Services committee approved SB 110, which I authored. The bill requires the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to prescribe procedures for each school district to provide information to parents of female students. The information is to include the correlation between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer and the availability of the cervical cancer vaccine. The Department of State Health Services will prescribe the form and content of the information that is disseminated.
The cervical cancer vaccine is routinely recommended for females who are nine through 18 years of age. The Center for Disease Control recommends special emphasis on 11-12 year olds, however, information is to be distributed to the parents of girls nine through 18 years.
I am sure you recall Governor Perry issued an executive order mandating the vaccine. The mandate, which was also the original intent of this bill, will no longer be in effect, due to the lack of support at this time. This bill now serves an educational measure, which will provide information to the public on the vaccine. The first step to protecting women's health is through information.
The vaccine is virtually 100% effective in preventing infection by the two types of HPV that lead to cervical cancer and there is no risk of being infected by the virus through the vaccination. Approximately 3,700 women with cervical cancer die each year in the U.S. and this number could plummet by use of this vaccine. If we want to save lives, we must act now.
"Balanced Billing Disclosure Act"
Senate Bill 380, which I authored has been approved in the Senate. It would require health care facilities, health benefit plans and physicians to notify patients of the possibility of being responsible for payment of services, that are not covered by a health benefit plan. Currently a patient can go to a hospital or doctor's office that is within their provider network, but be seen by a doctor or receive services from outside of the network, but still within the facility. Patients often do not know they will be billed by those doctors until they are already treated. This is called "Balance Billing."
Under this bill, health benefit plans and health care facilities must provide written notice that patients or enrollees may be balanced billed for services they receive. Also, if a patient gets balanced billed by a facility-based physician, then the physician must send a bill that contains an itemized listing of services, including an explanation that the physician is not in their health benefit plan.
Unexpected medical bills can often be financially devastating. It is unfair for a patient to be under the impression that their services are covered and then be hit with a major expense.
"RAL Protection Act"
I am the Senate sponsor for House Bill 1344, authored by Representative Mike Villareal. The bill would require providers of Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs) to register with the state and disclose basic information to customers about the loan. RALs are short-term cash advances against a taxpayer's anticipated income tax refund, which are often used by low-income Texans.
Many RAL borrowers in Texas do not fully understand RALs. The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) reports that a typical RAL costs the borrower approximately $100, although he or she may pay as much as $250 when the cost of tax preparation and other fees are included. These fees represent a significant portion of a typical $2,000 refund.
RAL borrowers often receive their refunds only one week earlier that they would if they were to use free online filing services and had their refunds directly deposited into their banking accounts. A nationwide survey of RAL borrowers found that two-thirds did not know they were taking out a loan. While a borrower can likely repay the loan upon receipt of the actual tax refund, if the refund is lower than anticipated the borrower must find an alternative source of money to pay the difference, which accumulates at a high interest rate.
We must not let dollars we have earned go wasted. A tax return is crucial to someone who works hard, but does not always have enough to make ends meet and every dollar counts.
I will continue to keep you updated the remainder of the legislative session. Please contact my office with any questions or concerns. I am here representing you!
HOW TO CONTACT SENATOR VAN DE PUTTE
700 N. St. Mary's St. #1725
San Antonio, Texas 78205
(210) 733-6605 - fax