What's new . . .
On Monday, November 8, Texas legislators began pre-filing bills to be considered during the 79th Legislative Session, which commences January 11, 2005. There were 177 bills pre-filed, which is considerably fewer than in previous sessions, with 312 pre-filed bills in the 77th session (2001) and 295 pre-filed bills in the 78th session (2003). I have pre-filed two measures, Senate Joint Resolution SJR 6 and SJR 7. SJR 6 is a constitutional amendment to require the Texas House and Senate or committee of the Texas Legislature to record the vote on legislative measures and actions and make these results available to the public. SJR 7 is a constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage. Other bills that have been pre-filed range from establishing a checkpoint on a highway or street to determine whether persons are driving while intoxicated, to legislation establishing a statewide income tax. To view pre-filed legislation, click on the Texas Senate or Texas House of Representatives.
Also on November 8th, a Travis County state district judge ruled that the roll-back ordered for State Farm and Farmers homeowners' insurance policies was unconstitutional. In 2003, following the enactment of insurance reform legislation by the Texas Legislature, the Commissioner of Insurance ordered State Farm to reduce its rates by 12% and Farmers by 17.5%. However, the insurance companies fought the rollbacks by filing a lawsuit against the State of Texas. On Friday, November 19, the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) utilized another legal tactic in an effort to force State Farm and Farmers insurance companies to reduce homeowners' premiums. TDI issued citations to State Farm and Farmers asserting that both companies have illegally overcharged customers, and TDI is seeking refunds in excess of $300 million plus interest. In addition, and as anticipated, the Commissioner of Insurance also requested Friday that the state appeal the recent court decision. If neither of the actions taken by TDI against State Farm and Farmers is successful in reducing homeowners' premiums, it is likely that the Texas Legislature will revisit the issue during the 79th Legislative Session.
If you have ever needed assistance within the health and human services sector from the State of Texas, you may have discovered that there are an array of organizations, office locations, and overlapping programs. Currently, the state's health and human services agencies employ 46,000 people at 1,000 offices with a budget totaling $20 billion, about 30% of the state's budget. The system has been confusing and often times aggravating.
Recognizing the need to improve the quality and accessibility of services and ensure their efficient delivery, during the 78th Regular Session the Legislature passed House Bill 2292. The bill reorganized the state's health and human services system to create an integrated, effective, and accessible health and human services enterprise that protects public health and brings high-quality services and support to Texans in need. The consequences of HB 2292 have been hailed by some as good, by others as bad. Nevertheless, the transformation has blended 12 agencies into four departments under the direction of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). This transformation is intended to improve client services, focus on results, and ensure that our tax dollars are used efficiently by reducing bureaucracy and allowing more money to go toward service delivery. Texans are already benefiting from these changes. Due to this transformation, in October 2004, the state was able to re-invest $5.3 million of cost savings into improving mental health and substance abuse services provided by the Children's Health Insurance Program.
HHSC will now be responsible for benefits determination, allowing the four new departments to focus on service delivery. And what was once a long, time consuming application process with multiple agencies can now be completed through a single point of contact.
The new state system includes four new departments, which will operate under the oversight of the Health and Human Services Commission. The four new departments are:
- The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) will be responsible for all child and adult protective services, in addition to child care regulatory services.
- The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) combines the programs of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, Commission for the Blind, Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and Interagency Council on Early Childhood Intervention.
- The Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) will oversee mental retardation services, including the operation of state schools and other community services for the mentally retarded, in addition to nursing home services and other aging services.
- The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) includes the programs provided by the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Health Care Information Council, plus mental-health community services and state hospital programs operated by the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.
Did You Know...?
Did you know that by purchasing a particular music CD you are contributing to music education for the students of Texas? The Texas Music Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit initiative that is designed to strengthen and restore music education in Texas schools. Volume One, which was released in September of 2003, became the best-selling Texas compilation CD in history. Volume Two, which is available now, contains 19 new artists such as Clint Black, George Strait, Pat Green, and Bonnie Raitt, just to name a few. The "Don't Mess With Texas Music" CD can be found at www.texasmusicproject.org and also at Texas Starbucks Coffee locations.
Did you know that the Texas Preservation Board, also known as the "Caretakers" of the Texas Capitol, designs and sells Capitol Christmas ornaments through the Texas Capitol Gift Shop every year. The design this year is a view of the inside Capitol dome from the Rotunda. You can view and purchase this ornament, by clicking on Capitol Gift Shop. All proceeds from the sale of this ornament go to the Capitol Fund for future repairs and upkeep to the Capitol.
Student Opportunities . . .
For the first time ever, the SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Conference and Festival has offered a "short film" contest for high school students. If you know of any high school students that have an interest in film, please have them visit the SXSW website for details regarding the film contest.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is looking for essays on horned toads from school children. TPWD will award prizes to students and classrooms for essays and research projects dealing with horned toads. The deadline for submission is January 15. For more information, visit the website of the TPWD essay contest.
In Closing . . .
I hope that you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!
State Senator - District 16