November 8, 2004
Legislature Officially Under Way As Lawmakers Start to File Bills
On the first day to file bills for the upcoming legislative session, Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, took aim at methamphetamine labs, domestic violence, and a wide range of health care issues. The Legislature, which meets every odd-numbered year, reconvenes for its 79th Regular Session Jan. 11 to May 31 in 2005.
"With a $9.9 billion budget shortfall last session, our focus had to be on the bottom line. We need to remain fiscally disciplined, but I think we are in a much better position this session to make a difference on issues such as education, transportation, and health care, as well as a top priority for me -- reforming our protective services for children and the elderly," Senator Nelson said.
Senator Nelson, who chairs the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, has stated her intent to file an omnibus protective services bill after the Office of Investigator General releases its report on Adult Protective Services. Bills prefiled today include:
Senate Bill (SB) 42 expands on Senator Nelson's 1999 law (SB 19 77R) requiring 30 minutes of daily exercise in elementary schools. This session's bill will require the Texas Education Commissioner to assess compliance with that law, as well as an assessment of student access to unhealthy food in vending machines. "Learning to take care of our bodies should be elementary. Returning physical activity to the school day is meant to provide a true health benefit to our students," Senator Nelson said.
SB 43 creates a meth watch program patterned after an initiative in Kansas that educates retailers on identifying suspicious purchases and deterring theft of sale of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals that are used in the illegal manufacturing of methamphetamine. "This is one of the most destructive narcotics, and unfortunately it is one of the easiest to manufacture. We hope this initiative will assist our police in their effort to shut down meth labs in Texas," Senator Nelson said.
SB 44 re-establishes the Indigent Health Care Advisory Committee, which was eliminated last session. "We do not need an advisory committee on every subject, but this one is so important -- not just to families without health insurance but to all of us who want to make health care more accessible in a fiscally responsible way," she said.
SB 45 establishes an advisory committee on health care information technology. "The more I study the factors involved in rising health care costs, the more convinced I am that emerging technology provides our best hope of reining in those costs. There is an archaic, bureaucratic, costly paper trail involved in the delivery of medical care, and we need a panel of experts in the field to help us find those innovations that can help streamline health services," she said.
SB 46 and SB 47 aim to reduce fraud and waste in the state's Medicaid system. SB 46 directs the Health and Human Services Commission to develop a prototype for a universal benefits card to consolidate the multiple forms of identification and verification currently used for all public health and human services into a single card. SB 47 directs the Health and Human Services Commission to expand the Medicaid Fraud Pilot Program statewide if it is shown to be cost-effective. "Last session we learned that when it comes to our health and human services, every dollar counts. Fraud and administrative waste rob families of funding for services, and we simply cannot afford it," she said.
SB 48 and SB 52 relate to the quality of care in nursing homes. SB 48 initiates new reporting requirements in order to track quality of care outcomes for private pay nursing home residents and make that information available to consumers. "Seniors deserve the very best possible care, and this kind of data will help consumers make informed decisions when choosing a nursing home," Senator Nelson said. SB 52 establishes grants to promote innovation in the industry to improve the quality of life for nursing home residents. "I want the nursing home of the future to be available today. We can make that happen by helping those people in the industry who are developing new models," she said.
SB 49, SB 50 and SB 51 share the goal of simplifying and streamlining the health care claims and billing system. SB 49 finalizes the shift in Texas from a paper claims system to an electronic system. SB 50 allows hospitals, physicians and other providers to include language in their contracts to ensure that all claims are processed appropriately. SB 51 requires employers to pay health insurance premiums in a timely manner. "This legislation picks up where prompt pay left off, and I look forward to continuing these efforts to reduce the bureaucracy in our health care system," Senator Nelson said.
SB 53 aims to expand the rights of patients to keep private genetic information. "Genetic technology continues to advance by leaps and bounds, but it is important that we keep a handle on the type of personal genetic information about us that could be used as grounds for discrimination. I do not want Texans to lose their health insurance because a genetic test indicates they might get sick," she said.
SB 54 protects the rights of citizens to display the American flag on their property. It is a response to recent neighborhood bans. "Our flag represents the sacrifices of our military, and people should be allowed to honor those sacrifices by flying the Stars & Stripes, especially during a time of war. We need to be sensitive to neighborhoods, which is why we ensure respectful displays. Every American should have the right to show their patriotism," she said.
SB 55 and SB 56 will help protect victims of domestic violence or other violent crime. SB 55 amends the protective order statute to cover minors. SB 56 requires that notice be given to a prosecutor when a bail reduction is requested. "I am very concerned that young women in their teens are becoming victims of abuse. If a teenager is behaving like an abusive adult, then the same rules for protective orders need to apply," Senator Nelson said. " SB 56 is my renewed attempt to make potentially life-saving information about bail reductions available to victims of violent crime and their families. I filed this two sessions ago in response to the irresponsible bail reduction of Timothy Richardson, who murdered his wife, Mary Richardson, in University Park. He had made overt threats to her family, and they at least deserved to know that his bail was about to be dramatically reduced."
SB 57 gives counties the right to regulate the placement of billboards along thoroughfares in unincorporated areas. "We need to balance the rights of outdoor advertisers with the rights of taxpayers. Some people would rather not have their drives through the country turned into a drive through the yellow pages," she said.
SB 58 responds to a concern among taxpayers in Denton County, where millions of dollars worth of "low income" housing developments have been taken off the tax rolls with only a small number of units being set aside for needy families. The bill excludes tax-exempt status for developments with less than half of their units designated for low income and limits the exemption based on the number of low income families served. "Families in a school district should not have to shoulder additional tax burden because a developer misuses the incentive to provide affordable housing," she said.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including parts of Tarrant and Denton Counties.