My five cents...
by Sen. Robert Nichols, Senate District 3
Monday of this week was President's Day. And while the federal government took the day off, your State Legislature was hard at work. However, an interesting phenomenon is developing. Fewer Senate bills are being filed than usual, over 23 percent less than last session. Still, the decrease in bills does not mean the Senate is any less busy. In fact, it may be that tackling issues like Medicaid fraud prevention, transportation funding and water infrastructure that results in passing more significant legislation and filing less bills.
Five things happening at your Texas Capitol are:
SB 567 IOU Water and Utilities Bill
I recently filed SB 567 to overhaul the state's oversight of investor-owned water and sewer utilities (IOUs), and to ensure that customers have an advocate in cases over excessive rates.
The legislation reflects the work of Senate subcommittees led by myself and Senator Kirk Watson in 2012. These subcommittees held hearings on steep increases in water and sewer rates that were imposed by IOUs. The many stakeholders working with the subcommittees have helped us to determine that the current regulatory system is broken. The one-size-fits-all treatment of large-, mid- and small-sized utilities does not work.
The policy recommendations regarding these rapidly escalating water and sewer rates, reflected in SB 567, will bring relief to Texans living in rural and unincorporated areas of the state.
SB 8 Medicaid Reform Bill
I am coauthor of Senator Jane Nelson's SB 8, which would help eliminate some of the high levels of fraud, waste and abuse in our Medicaid system. We must make sure that the funds our state spends on Medicaid are going to Texans who actually need them, and not to criminals who are illegally using the system. As Senator Nelson has stated, "Every dollar that goes to fraud, waste or abuse is a dollar we can't spend on someone who truly needs it."
Among other things, SB 8 clarifies that a provider is ineligible to participate in Medicaid once a court finds the provider liable for Medicaid fraud. The bill also permanently excludes providers who have been debarred in another state or federal health care program for fraud. Finally, it directs the Health and Human Services Commission to reduce inappropriate use of ambulances for non-emergency transports. I am pleased to report that the bill passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee this week, making it one step closer to becoming law.
HB 1142 "Triggernometry"
An interesting bill being talked about at the Capitol is HB 1142 by State Representative James White who wants to add triggernometry to the electives that can be offered in Texas high schools. The course would teach the history and reasoning behind the Second Amendment, as well as training and safety with firearms.
Triggernomentry would not be forced on any school district. The decision to offer it would be made locally by districts who feel it is "congruent with the values" of the individuals they serve.
Child Advocacy Centers Day at the Capitol
Wednesday was Children's Advocacy Center at the Capitol. There are 66 Child Advocacy Centers around the state whose mission is to restore the lives of abused children, in partnership with local communities and agencies investigating and prosecuting child abuse.
The centers provide an array of child-focused services including specialized child-interviewing techniques, as well as medical and mental health assessments and treatment. In addition, they offer comprehensive advocacy services on the parts of abused children.
I strongly support this group's work and offer my thanks to all the volunteers involved.
Manufacturers' Day at the Capitol
Texas Manufacturers' Day was also held this week at the Capitol. Did you know that there are more than 852,000 Texans employed in manufacturing and that their compensation averages 70 percent more than the rest of the Texas workforce? Governor Perry issued an official proclamation this week in the manufacturers' honor, noting that Texas has been the top exporting state for 11 consecutive years and that "manufacturing is an especially important part of our state's thriving economy."
A few of their legislative priorities for this session include focusing on our state's critical infrastructure, especially water; defending against excessive taxation on capital intensive businesses; improving the state's education system with a flexible framework to better prepare skilled workers; and preserving Texas' ability to attract and retain national and international economic development investments. As a former manufacturer myself, I am proud to be a part of such a robust and free market oriented group.