TYC REFORM, TOLL-ROAD MORATORIUM, MEDICAID REFORM PASS
(AUSTIN) — The troubled Texas Youth Commission would get a complete overhaul under a Senate plan passed Thursday. A legislative investigation into TYC following a report of sex abuse at one west Texas facility revealed systemic problems within the agency. The bill includes a restructuring of the administrative system, increased access for parents to facility policies and grievance processes, and new guidelines for employee training. McAllen Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa who authored the bill says it could serve as the national standard for revamping an out-of-control state agency. "We put checks and balances in the system, a lot of transparency, a lot of accountability, to the point that this could serve as a model for the rest of the country on how to restructure an agency that's gone bad," said Hinojosa.
Another major provision in the bill keeps misdemeanor juvenile offenders out of TYC, saving space and resources for more serious offenders. The bill includes $47 million for 600 new beds at regional facilities, where Hinojosa says these kinds of offenders are best served. "They're better off staying back home, so they can receive support from their families, and from their own communities," he said.
The bill also creates an internal inspector general at TYC to investigate allegations of abuse, and an agency ombudsman to manage complaints from inmates and parents.
Also Thursday, the Senate approved a two-year moratorium on the sale of public transportation projects to private, for-profit companies. The Texas Department of Transportation has used this policy to start new highway projects, permitting firms to manage them as toll roads. The public and lawmakers alike have raised concerns about this policy, because they question the wisdom of ceding control over public property to private companies. Bill author Robert Nichols of Jacksonville says the state needs to slow down and look at these public/private partnership deals closely. "I believe these provisions need to be carefully reviewed by the public, all entities impacted, as well as the legislature, before many contracts are signed for half a century or longer," he said.
A sweeping Medicaid reform bill was passed by the Senate Tuesday which seeks to address rising state health care costs. Senator Jane Nelson, author of SB 10, says the state has to make changes to its Medicaid system, and soon. "If you look at percentages of our budget that Medicaid is using, the word you hear most often is 'unsustainable'," she said. "We cannot keep doing things the way we've been doing."
The bill takes advantage of new laws that give states more flexibility with federal Medicaid dollars. To increase the number of Texans insured under private plans, it would authorize a pilot program to look at new three-share programs that split the cost of premiums between the individual, the employer, and state or charitable funds. The bill would create pilot programs to judge the effectiveness of other alternative insurance strategies, like health savings accounts, and sets up a fund to help pay health care costs for uninsured Texans. Texans that take preventative care programs, such as smoking-cessation or weight-loss plans, would be rewarded through discounts on health care services.
Other bills passed by the Senate this week include:
- SB 11, by Senator John Carona, which updates homeland security and disaster preparedness and response policies
- SB 4, by Senators Kyle Janek and Florence Shapiro, which increase state oversight over charter schools and provides incentives for high performing charter schools
- SB 448, by Senator Carlos Uresti raises the legal age to purchase tobacco to 19
- SB 1031, by Senator Shapiro phases out the TAKS test beginning in 2009, replacing it with a series of end-of-course exams
The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 23, at 1:30 p.m.