Senate Committees Continue Work on Services for Texans
Veterans and health care recipients were in the spotlight today at the Texas Capitol as Senate committees examined how new laws passed during the 77th Legislative Session are being implemented.
The Joint Interim Committee on Health Services had some pointed questions for its first witness, Don Gilbert of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. He has been charged with delivering health care services to Texans in a more efficient way, while finding more than $200 million dollars in savings. Gilbert told the committee that he can find the $205 million in savings, but committee members were more interested in ensuring that health care services did not suffer.
Representative Garnet Coleman warned Gilbert that the policy objectives must not be sacrificed in the name of saving money. Gilbert admitted that there had been opposition to the proposals at several of the 25 public hearings held around the state and that there was a lot of misinformation about them as well. Co-Chair Senator Judith Zaffirini told him that it was essential that word of opposition be given to the committee. The committee wants to ensure that the Health Department staff is implementing legislative mandates.
The next witnesses were Kelly Furgeson and Paul Priest of the Legislative Budget Board. They said that both caseloads and funding under Medicaid will increase during 2002. Phyllis Coombes from the Comptroller's Office offered the last invited testimony. The Comptroller has been working on a special financial report on Medicaid spending. While the report is a year old, it will enable the state to determine exactly how much needs to be spent on the program.
The Texas Joint Interim Committee on Health Services will report its findings to the Legislature in November of 2002. It is co-chaired by Senator Judith Zaffirini and Representative Patricia Gray. Members include Senators Robert Duncan, Jane Nelson, Steve Ogden and Eliot Shapleigh; Representatives Garnet Coleman, Craig Eiland, Kyle Janek and Arlene Wohlgemuth. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.
The Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations began its interim meetings with a moment of silence for those killed during the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Cassie Carlson Reed from the Texas Workforce Commission was the first witness, speaking on Charge #4, where the committee will be examining the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of veterans' services. Reed said her agency focuses on disabled veterans and that 24-hour access to Workforce Commission services is very important. Chairman Truan said that services to veterans had been overlooked in recent years, and that this must stop.
Major General Wayne Marty and Brigadier General Michael Smith from the Texas National Guard discussed the security measures taken since the September 11 attacks. Currently, thirteen hundred soldiers have been mobilized for airport security and to guard other assets. They were speaking on Charges #5 and #6, regarding the mobilization of Texas military forces.
Mike Olen, veteran services manager with the Texas Workforce Commission, discussed the protection of active reservists's and guardsmen's jobs that are protected under federal law. Senator Truan then asked how the mobilization would affect the Department of Public Safety ( DPS) officers and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) guards. He was told that for future activations the guard would check and see how the activation would affect state agencies like the DPS and TDCJ.
Douglas Oldmixon, deputy commissioner, and Rusty Martin, funds manager with the Veterans Land Board, talked about Charge #2. This charge deals with the effect of the increased bonding authority granted to the Veterans Land Board in House Bill 2453 of the 77th Legislature. Oldmixon then discussed the veterans nursing home program, part of Charge #3. He said that at the present time there are four homes with 160 beds each, with a total number of 46.25% beds occupied. Senator Truan asked where future homes would be located. Oldmixon told the committee that the homes are located near VA medical centers.
James Nier, executive director of the Texas Veterans Commission, discussed the commissions activities with the veterans nursing homes and House Bill 310, which relates to construction of veterans cemeteries. HB310 would authorize up to seven cemeteries, in addition to the four national veterans cemeteries. David Anderson with the Texas Education Agency discussed House Bill 2125, which relates to public school admission for military personnel and dependents. This is part of Charge #4.
The Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs is chaired by Senator Carlos Truan. Senator Eliot Shapleigh is vice-chair. Members are Senators Troy Fraser, and Leticia Van de Putte.
The committee recessed subject to the call of the chair.