P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923
Session Countdown: Bill Status Report
AUSTIN — Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, played a key role in balancing the budget and improving the delivery of health and human services during the 82nd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, which ends today.
Senator Nelson oversaw a major portion of the budget that funds health and human services. She also was a member of a 10-member conference committee that negotiated the final budget.
Positives: "We met the expectations of Texans, who wanted us to pass a balanced budget without raising taxes and to adequately fund education, protect our most vulnerable citizens and meet our basic needs. Texas has weathered the recession better than most states thanks to conservative fiscal policies, reasonable regulations and low taxes. The 2012-2013 budget puts Texas in a good position to continue our economic success."
Negatives: "On the final day of the session, two critical bills are hanging in the balance. Senate Bill 8 and Senate Bill 23 are not only important to balancing the budget, but they contain needed reforms to make health care more efficient and affordable."
Greatest Accomplishment: "Despite our budget challenges, we were able to avoid drastic cuts that threatened nursing homes, mental health care and child protective services. We maintained the safety net for children, the elderly and fragile Texans."
Following are highlights of Senator Nelson's legislative priorities:
Stalking: SB 82 expands the definition of stalking to include actions other than following a victim or repeated actions of the same kind. It also adds language that stalking can include behavior targeted to the victim's current dating partner. "The connection between stalking and subsequent violent acts must be taken seriously," Senator Nelson said. SB 434 establishes a task force to address the relationship between domestic violence and child abuse and neglect.
Tollway Fines: After hearing from more than 160 constituents, Senator Nelson filed SB 469 to protect drivers from excessive administrative fees collected on delinquent tolls by the North Texas Tollway Authority. The bill would limit NTTA to one $25 invoice fee regardless of how many missed tolls for drivers who pay within 30 days of receiving notice. "I fully recognize that toll authorities need tools at their disposal to deal with toll violations and delinquent collections," Senator Nelson said. "However, there appears to be a pervasive problem that has subjected Texans to unreasonable fees that they can't afford and that, quite frankly, are disproportionate to their actions."
Reforming Child Protective Services: SB 218 redesigns the state's foster care system to help displaced children remain in their home communities where they have access to valuable support networks. SB 219 better coordinates mental health services for abused and neglected children. "Especially at a time when we need to make every penny count, it is vital that our resources are being allocated into systems that truly support children and help them grow up to become responsible adults."
North Texas Pharmacy College: Senator Nelson added a budget rider that directs the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth and the University of Texas to establish a joint College of Pharmacy. The rider appropriates $300,000 for developing curriculum and gaining accreditation, but states that no state funds may be used for construction of the facility.
Barnett Shale: The Legislature passed landmark legislation requiring public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Senator Nelson was a co-sponsor of HB 3328. So also was a co-author of a new law that adds up to 20 air monitors in the Barnett Shale. "Texas would be the first state to publicly disclose what is in the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing, which demonstrates our commitment to maximize the economic benefits of the Barnett Shale in a way that also protects our environment and the public health," Senator Nelson said.
Waste and Fraud: Senator Nelson filed a package of bills to fight waste, fraud and abuse in state government. SB 222 streamlines the delivery of personal attendant services. SB 223 improves the state's ability to identify fraud and oversee long-term care providers. "By ensuring that the state provides health care and long-term services in a responsible manner, we will be able to serve the greatest number of individuals with available resources," Senator Nelson said.
SB 77 requires performance bonds for contractors who receive federal funds through the Texas Department of Agriculture to provide food at child and adult day cares. It also allows the Agriculture Department to do criminal background checks. "These requirements will protect taxpayer dollars and avoid situations such as what occurred in North Texas, when a contractor collected funds but failed to deliver meals to day cares."
Three other bills promote efficient use of resources. SB 74 allows universities to donate extra computer equipment to rural hospitals for health information technology. SB 71 eliminates requirements for various health and human services reports that are no longer needed or redundant; SB 1179 does the same across state agencies and institutions of higher education.
Child Care Safety: SB 1178 increases protections for children in paid care. It enhances oversight of the approximately 7,600 listed family homes and prohibits individuals from managing a child care operation if their authority to operate was previously revoked or denied. "These changes improve the state's oversight of child care operations to increase protections for children in a variety of paid care settings."
SB 76 responds to reports of fraud in the federal self-arranged day care program, which provides day care subsidies for single parents transitioning from welfare to work. Reports have uncovered cases of children being left at home unsupervised or placed in the care of relatives with felony records. The bill mandates criminal background checks on providers. "This bill closes the door to unsuitable providers so that the funding truly benefits those single parents in need of day care assistance to remain in the workforce."
Protecting Vulnerable Texans: SB 78 allows state health and human services agencies to share information about adverse licensing decisions and gives agencies authority to deny an application based on another agency's decision. SB 221 strengthens protections against the exploitation of seniors and ensures that law enforcement is notified if a client's home may be left vacant due to the client being removed under a protective order. SB 220 increases protections of wards in guardianship and make it easier for families to navigate the guardianship system. "These reforms will protect the civil liberties of persons who come under the state guardianship system and help family members understand and follow the process."
Food Safety: Outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in fresh produce spotlighted the need for greater consumer protections. SB 81 closes a loophole in the inspection process for entities that harvest, wash, package or ship raw produce. "Consumers need better protection from food-borne illnesses that may arise from fresh produce."
Patient Protections: Texas received national attention when two nurses in Winkler County were criminally charged with misuse of official information after filing complaints against a physician to the Texas Medical Board. Charges against one nurse were dropped, and a jury found the other nurse not guilty, but not before both nurses lost their jobs. SB 192 strengthens protections for nurses engaged in patient advocacy activities. "Nurses must be protected from retaliation when they report questionable medical care."
Medical Privacy: Advancements in technology required an update of Texas medical privacy laws. HB 300 was sponsored in Senate by Senator Nelson. It protects Texans' sensitive health data as more patient information is kept in electronic health networks, and protects Texans against the sale or unauthorized disclosure of their protected health information. "This bill ensures that patients are protected from unauthorized access to this highly sensitive information, and that patients have the right to access their own electronic medical records."
Nelson Bills Passed Report
- SB 226 requires a school to submit individual student Fitnessgram data (de-identified with student ID number) to the Texas Education Agency for better correlation of data and research.
- SB 187 requires more stringent documentation for the transportation of bodies and body parts.
- SB 229 eliminates exemptions for birthing facilities in small counties to ensure that all newborns are screened for hearing.
- HB 289 (sponsored in Senate by Senator Nelson) closes a gap in the law to protect children from exploitation and to give prosecutors the tools they need to take action against sexually oriented businesses that employ children.
- HB 290 (sponsored in Senate by Senator Nelson) reflects the serious nature of hiring a minor at a sexually oriented business, and brings the penalty for employment harmful to children in line with similar crimes.
- SB 1422 gives Denton County Transportation Authority fare enforcement tools and flexibility to expand rail service.
- SB 86 allows smaller cities to use vehicle registrations to locate drivers with outstanding warrants for unpaid traffic violations.
- SB 85 makes a county voter registrar responsible for maintaining a list of permanent jury duty exemptions instead of the county tax assessor/collector. Denton County officials sought this change to improve efficiency.
- SB 436 allows counties with population of 500,000 to contract with a city to conduct day care inspections.
- SB 438 allows wineries in Texas to sell wine at farmers' markets and festivals for up to four consecutive days.
- SB 799 clarifies that the excise tax is not assessed on wine sold from a winery to another winery or wholesaler.
- SCR 16 designates the month of March each year to recognize the contributions of women who have served in the military.
- SB 1421 allows the state to collect interest from securities and equity ownership that are realized as a result of a grant project of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
- SB 794 extends the existing dedication of tobacco settlement funds to nursing higher education until Sept. 1, 2015.
- SB 80 implements financial reporting, collection and confidentiality improvements at the state Public Health Labs.
- SB 189 adds a requirement of practicing for three years in medically underserved areas to applicants for a medical license under an H-1B Visa.
- SB 256 requires companies performing private autopsies to notify consumers how to file complaints with the Texas Medical Board.
- SB 969 promotes collaboration between the state and local health entities to ensure that public health funding reflects local needs and priorities.
- SB 796 identifies priorities for addressing diabetes in the Medicaid population.
- SB 193 establishes a voluntary and confidential error reporting system to identify common nursing errors so that educational efforts can be focused on reducing those errors.
- SB 795 strengthens certified nurse aide training requirements to improve the quality of long-term care.
Senator Nelson represents Senate District 12, which includes portions of Denton and Tarrant counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.