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February 28, 2007 (512) 463-0300

COMMITTEE GRILLS HAWKINS ABOUT HPV VACCINATIONS

(AUSTIN) -- Health and Human Service Commissioner Albert Hawkins appeared before the Senate Nominations Committee to seek re-approval for his appointment, but Senators were less interested in his past performance than how he would administer a controversial vaccination program. Earlier this year, Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order directing the Commissioner of the HHSC to create guidelines requiring a vaccination for the human papillomavirus (HPV) for young girls entering the sixth grade. This has proved to be a controversial order, which has raised questions about the balance of power in state government, parents' rights, and possible connections between the Office of the Governor and the company that makes the HPV vaccine.

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Senator Kevin Eltife of Tyler questions Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins about how he would administer a controversial HPV vaccination program at a Nominations Committee hearing Wednesday.

Hawkins began by laying out the agency's accomplishments since he took over in 2003. He says under his watch, HHSC has eliminated administrative waste and redundancies, implemented a preferred drug program that has saved the state $488 million since 2004, and improved Medicaid service.

The HPV vaccination executive order was the central theme of the questions asked by members to Hawkins. "Executive orders are for emergencies," said Tyler Senator Kevin Eltife, "In your opinion as Commissioner of Health, is this [HPV] an emergency?" Hawkins said he could not answer the question, because he is "unable to make a predetermination about the outcome of the rules making process." Eltife, who after repeatedly rephrasing the question, was unable to get Hawkins to commit to a yes or no answer, and said that he could not support Hawkins' nomination if he could not give a direct response.

Senator Jane Nelson, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, tried to get Hawkins to answer the emergency question another way, asking him to rank the top ten health issues facing Texas. Along with Medicaid, treatment of the elderly and disabled, and uninsured Texans, Hawkins said he felt that cancer treatment and prevention, including cervical cancer, was a top ten issue. Nelson was also unhappy that a HPV study report mandated by one of her bills last session had not been delivered to Legislators by the stipulated date. "If I was the boss, and I found out who was in charge of getting that report to the Legislature, heads would roll," she said. Hawkins promised to discover why the report had yet to be delivered.

Following about two hours of questions, Nominations Committee Chairman Mike Jackson left Hawkins' nomination as pending business before the committee to be voted on at a later date.

Also today, Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro announced legislation that would give parents with children with autism the right to transfer their children into schools that have better autism education programs. Autism is a neurological disorder that impairs societal skills along a broad spectrum. It is the broad range of symptoms, said Shapiro, that makes it so hard to offer special education services to autistic children. "Because symptoms can vary so greatly, a program that works for one child may not be effective for another," said Shapiro. "That is why individualized programs are so important." Senate Bill 1000 would permit parents of autistic children to move their children into another school, including an accredited private school. Schools that take these students would be reimbursed by the state at the same amount the student would receive in state funds at their old schools.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 5 at 3 p.m.

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

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