P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
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SENATOR NELSON, LAWMAKERS BEGIN PRE-FILING BILLS
AUSTIN -- Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and her colleagues took part today in the first day of pre-filing bills that will be considered when legislators reconvene in January 2009 for the 81st Regular Session of the Texas Legislature.
"Texas is one of the few states with positive cash flow in this economy, but we still expect a tight budget session with rising Medicaid costs, a growing price tag for Hurricane Ike and other financial challenges. We need to spend every penny wisely," said Senator Nelson, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee and as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services. "My legislative agenda focuses on protecting children, seniors and the disabled; increasing access to health care; helping families and businesses through difficult economic times; and advancing our local priorities such as transportation, education and fiscal responsibility." Senator Nelson's agenda includes:
Health Care in the Child Support System: SB 66 creates a health insurance pool within the state's child support system. Many children in the system are without documented health insurance, despite state and federal laws requiring parents to provide both child and medical support. This legislation could help connect up to 200,000 children to health coverage. "This bill is meant to help children whose parents do not have access to health insurance through their employer. By establishing this pool, we can connect more Texas children to health care."
Omnibus Fingerprint Background Checks: SB 67 requires that direct care providers at the Department of Aging & Disability Services (DADS) and the Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS) submit to fingerprint background checks. "Technology has reached the point where we should not have individuals with serious criminal histories falling through the cracks of our background checks, especially those working with children, seniors and the disabled."
Protecting Children in Day Care: SB 68 improves protection for children in day care by standardizing the type of care subject to state licensing requirements, expanding fingerprint background checks, and strengthening penalties for violations. SB 68 also clearly delineates which types of child care programs are exempt from licensing requirements, including most church activities, sports camps and recreational programs. "When parents entrust their children to a licensed day care, they expect the state to ensure that health and safety standards are met. This bill provides better protection for children in day care," she said.
CPS/Foster Reform: SB 69 re-focuses education efforts for children aging out of the foster system; provides additional support for foster parents, especially those caring for special needs children; and establishes mentoring for biological parents who succeed in regaining custody of their children. "Children who have endured abuse, neglect or abandonment deserve safe, supportive foster homes. We need to wrap our arms around these children and make sure they have the best opportunity at success in life. We must also support those Texans who have opened up their hearts and homes to displaced children," she said.
ICF-MR Abuse/Neglect: SB 70 transfers authority to investigate licensed care facilities for Texans with developmental disabilities from DADS to DFPS. "Allegations of abuse must be investigated fairly and aggressively, especially when the safety of our most vulnerable citizens is at stake. We shouldn't have a facility investigating itself because that creates conflict of interest," Senator Nelson said.
Response to HHS Audit: An audit of the state's health & human service agencies found that 92 percent of supervisors hired between September 2006 and March 2008 had not completed one or more of the required training courses; 72 percent had no employee evaluation in their file; and 1,229 individuals continued to receive paychecks totaling $738,192 after agency background checks uncovered convictions that ultimately led to their termination. SB 71 requires background check investigations to be completed in 30 days and prohibits paychecks beyond that time frame unless the individual receives clearance. SB 72 requires employees to complete training in a timely fashion. "These agencies deliver critical services to some of our most vulnerable citizens, so we have a duty to ensure that each employee is properly screened and trained," she said.
Adult Stem Cell Consortium: SB 73 creates a consortium in Texas in order to help spur adult stem cell research. "We want to maximize the benefits of adult stem cell research, which holds great promise in the effort to develop cures and treatment from many serious diseases," she said.
Disaster Preparations: SB 74 shields from civil liability medical professionals who, in good faith, provide care during a declared disaster or state emergency. SB 75 directs the Department of State Health Services to undertake an educational campaign about medical evacuations in a state of emergency. "In times of emergency, we need everyone operating from the same playbook, especially when it comes to patient care. We must also ensure that medical professionals are focused on patients rather than avoiding lawsuits," she said.
Access to Health Insurance: SB 76 authorizes the use of "child-only" health plans in Texas. SB 77 allows sole proprietors to join pooled health plans with other small business owners. SB 78 establishes TexLink, an office within the Department of Insurance, to help educate Texans about the availability of health plans. SB 79 establishes an optional accreditation for insurance agents signifying an expertise in health insurance for small businesses. SB 80 allows employers the option of covering 100% of an employees' costs if they do not want their employees to be charged premiums. "These bills fit into our broad goal of connecting more Texans with health coverage. We focus heavily on our small business owners, who struggle not only with the cost of health insurance but with finding solid information about the types of plans that might work for their operation," she said.
Relative Day Care: SB 81 requires fingerprint background checks for individuals receiving federal tax dollars for providing "relative day care." "This bill responds to reports of taxpayer dollars winding up in the hands of people with serious criminal histories and, in some cases, individuals who were not actually performing the day care service. We have to fight this type of waste and abuse because it robs us of resources needed to help those Texans who are truly deserving of assistance," she said.
Supporting Domestic Abuse Survivors: SB 82 requires offenders to pay a probation fee to benefit domestic violence shelters and SB 83 makes it easier for domestic violence survivors and sexual assault victims to terminate a lease to ensure their safety. "When someone has the courage to break the cycle of abuse, we need to provide support so that they can rebuild their lives in a safe, supportive environment," Senator Nelson said.
Preventing Teen Suicide: SB 84 establishes a collaborative statewide education effort with the goal of preventing teen suicides. SB 85 creates a pilot program to gauge the effectiveness of teen suicide prevention efforts in selected school districts. "Teen suicide remains a problem that unfortunately is not discussed enough in our schools and communities. We want to bring this issue out of the shadows and start a dialogue with young Texans about the problem," Senator Nelson said.
Filling Health Care Workforce Shortages: SB 86 requires 3 years of practice in Texas ' rural or underserved regions for foreign nationals seeking a medical license in Texas through the H1B Visa program. "If we allow foreign nationals to pursue their professional goals in Texas, it's reasonable to request that the overall health care needs of our state be considered. Parts of our state are in dire need of qualified health care providers, and this requirement can help fill some of those shortages," Senator Nelson said.
Improving Oversight of HHS Licensees: SB 87 ensures that health and human service agencies check each other's databases before granting a license to provide services. "If a license holder's privileges are revoked by one agency, other agencies should seek out this information to ensure that they do not issue a license to those who have put people in danger," she said.
Denton County Court: SB 88 establishes a new court in Denton County to help keep up with the area's growing population. "A recent study found that Denton County 's need for a new court is among the highest in the state. I want to make sure that our citizens can count on justice from efficient courts that are not overloaded," she said.
Tuition Freeze: SB 105, authored jointly with a bipartisan group of Senators, places a 2-year freeze on tuition rates for Texas universities, colleges and vocational schools and limits tuition increases to 5% a year after the 2-year moratorium. "I am deeply troubled by the rising cost of college tuition. Families cannot afford it. Businesses who need trained workers cannot afford it. And in this economy, Texas cannot afford it. We need to help Texans succeed in this economy, and education is key to making that happen," Senator Nelson, a former school teacher, said.
The Texas Legislature reconvenes on January 13, 2009 and adjourns on June 1, 2009. After today, legislators may continue to file bills until March 13, 2009. To search legislation up for consideration, visit the Texas Legislature online at www.capitol.state.tx.us.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.