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February 11, 2005     (512) 463-0300

Dr. Peter Traber, (left) President and CEO, Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, (center) Chancellor Emeritus of Baylor College of Medicine
Dr. Peter Traber, President and CEO (left), Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, Chancellor Emeritus of Baylor College of Medicine (center) appeared before the Senate Finance Committee on February 10th discussing funding for the medical school.

Health and Human Services Takes Center Stage
Senate Scholars Myra Mills and Brandon Bayles pictured with Senator Kip Averitt
Senate Scholars Myra Mills and Brandon Bayles pictured with Senator Kip Averitt. Senator Averitt brings many distinguished students from his district to the Senate Floor each session to give them a first-hand look at state government.

As part of his proclamation in January, Governor Rick Perry named Adult and Child Protective Services as an emergency issue for the 79th Legislative Session. The Governor says the state's APS and CPS systems are in need of reform, because of crushing case loads and a shortage of case workers, making it nearly impossible to meet the needs of some of the Texas' most vulnerable citizens. Because of this proclamation, any legislation passed through the Legislature and signed by the Governor relating to APS or CPS reform can become law within the first sixty days of session. The initial work of APS/CPS reform falls to the Senate Health and Human Services committee, chaired by Senator Jane Nelson. Nelson began testimony on Tuesday, by laying out Senate Bill 6, which will be the eventual vehicle for the Senate plan for protective service reform. Nelson admitted that the bill as laid out did not contain much content, but that was because she wants to use the committee process, and the input of expert and public testimony, as well as the work of various committee work groups, to fill out the bill over the next few weeks. Nelson said she hopes to have a bill she can send to the full Senate within the next three weeks.

Monday, the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony relating to all Health and Human Services agencies, including the Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). In the face of an almost $10 billion shortfall in the 78th Session, the Legislature was forced to make cuts to these programs that provide health coverage to millions of Texans. Cuts to CHIP meant that 147,000 formerly eligible cases were removed from the rolls in 2004. The Legislative Budget Board reports that Texas also bears an high burden for its Medicaid program, because the state insures citizens well above the income level mandated by federal statutes. The state covers infants and pregnant mothers at an income level of up to 185% of the poverty level, while the federal mandates are only 133%. Texas covers elderly living in nursing homes at 218% of the poverty level, a huge increase above the federal statute of 75%. This leads to a large Medicaid cost for the state. The challenge for the Senate Finance committee is to maintain this level of coverage while restoring some or all of the cuts to the CHIP program.

The Senate Education Committee held its first hearing of the session Tuesday. This committee will handle the second half of the Governor's emergency proclamation, public school finance reform. Testimony regarding federal funding for schools, specifically the No Child Left Behind act started the committees actions for the session. This act provides about $1.8 billion annually to Texas schools, provided the state follows certain mandates. Among these are an annual increase in reading and math proficiency, and graduation rates, and providing parents with information about academic standards and histories of violence at public schools. Under No Child Left Behind, parents have the right to transfer students from a school if that school is academically deficient or has a history of violence. The state is responsible for supplying that information by the third week of August each year, or face penalties. In 2004, Texas failed to meet this deadline and will lose about $442,000 in funding for the current school year. Officials from the Texas Education Agency testified that the state can and will appeal that decision.

Wednesday, Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa filed legislation intended to improve the standard of living in large rural communities of migrant workers, called colonias. "In the Rio Grande Valley, we no longer have colonias. They have been improved, there's running water, drainage, septic tanks, good health clinics," said Hinojosa, "The reason is that we provided county commissioners in Hidalgo County along the border the power too regulate the growth of colonias." Hinojosa said that in Nueces County, which he represents, there are water and health related problems in colonias much like the ones that border regions had before legislation gave border counties more regulatory power. In order to improve Nueces County colonias, Hinojosa proposes extending the same rights of regulation to Nueces County commissioners that have been given to border county commissioners.

S-B 425 would also allow the county to apply for millions of dollars in grants from a number of state and federal agencies, including the Texas Water Development Board.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 14th at 1:30 P.M.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.


The Week in Pictures
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Senior Texans Visit the Capitol
Senior Texans Visit the Capitol

Senior Texans Visit the Capitol

Senior Texans Visit the Capitol
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Rattle Snakes from Sweetwater, Texas
Rattle Snakes from Sweetwater, Texas

Rattle Snakes from Sweetwater, Texas

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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