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May 22, 2007 (512) 463-0300

CANCER RESEARCH FUND, CHIP EXPANSION APPROVED

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Senator Kip Averitt of Waco (left) talks with Horseshoe Bay Senator Troy Fraser about Averitt's bill to increase coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program.

(AUSTIN) -- The Senate overwhelmingly approved two measures Tuesday which were aimed at improving health care for children and cancer patients. These two issues have risen to the forefront in the waning days of the session as proponents of the bills wondered if looming deadlines would doom their passage. Both bills were passed as part of a marathon 15 hour Tuesday session that saw approval of more than 120 bills and resolutions.

Expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been a top priority of Senate leadership throughout the session. The bill passed Tuesday will add more than 100,000 children to the CHIP rolls, according to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst. "I am committed that any child that's eligible ought to be on the CHIP roll," he said. HB 109, sponsored by Waco Senator Kip Averitt, moves from six to twelve month eligibility, meaning that parents will have to re-enroll their kids in the program only once a year, rather than twice per year as required by current law. It also creates an electronic eligibility monitoring system, where families that are close to the upper income requirements are checked to see if they remain eligible.

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Senator Jane Nelson is congratulated by Senator Royce West (left) and Senator Robert Deuell after passage of her bill to create a $3 billion cancer research initiative in Texas.

Also passed Tuesday is a package that would create a $3 billion cancer research fund, intended to bring top scientists from around the world to Texas to work on a cure. Senate sponsor Senator Jane Nelson of Lewisville said this is one measure lawmakers can be proud they supported.

Two measures, HJR 90 and HB 14, work together to set up the funding mechanism for cancer research. HJR 90 would allow voters to decide whether to grant bonding authority, $300 million per year for 10 years, to the Legislature to fund the center, though lawmakers could choose to instead appropriate the money from state revenue. When asked why the state should sell bonds to raise this money, rather than simply take it from general revenue, Nelson replied that the state must show its determination to fund this program in the long term. "It creates a reliable funding stream and demonstrates a long-term commitment to making Texas a world leader in cancer research," she said.

HB 14 would create the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas, which would be governed by an appointed oversight committee. This committee would decide which research projects in Texas would merit grants out of the $3 billion fund. The state would be entitled to part of royalties on patents for any cures or treatments discovered in Texas.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, May 23, at 10:30 a.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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