WEEK IN REVIEW: SESSION ENTERS FINAL DAYS
(AUSTIN) — Legislators worked around the clock this week, the final full week of the 80th Session, to pass the last pieces of legislation and work on compromises between the House and Senate versions of passed bills. Wednesday night marked the deadline for final passage of all bills in the Senate, meaning anything not passed by the end of session that day is officially dead. Though many of the marquee bills, like the budget and toll road reforms, have been passed by both chambers and are in conference committee, the Senate still passed several important bills this week.
One of these is a package to create a $3 billion cancer research fund to attract the top cancer researchers from around the world to Texas. HJR 90, and its enabling legislation HB 14, was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Tuesday. This resolution would put a measure on the ballot allowing voters to authorize the Legislature to issue $300 million in bonds every year for ten years to ensure adequate money for the research fund. Senate sponsor Senator Jane Nelson said that although the Legislature could vote to fund the initiative through general revenue, permitting bonding authority will show Texas' long-term dedication to maintain the project. "It creates a reliable funding stream and demonstrates a long-term commitment to making Texas a world leader in cancer research," Nelson said.
Another bill passed Tuesday was HB 109, sponsored by Waco Senator Kip Averitt, which aims to add more than 100,000 children to the rolls of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Eligible families, those that make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, would only have to enroll children once a year, rather than twice, as is the case under current law. The bill would create an electronic monitoring system to check the eligibility of families that are close to that upper limit, to ensure that eligible families remain covered. If a family exceeds the income limit, they would receive two weeks notice before they lose coverage. The bill also removes the 90-day waiting period before CHIP coverage begins after enrollment.
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst praised the plan, saying it demonstrates the Senate's desire to ensure that everyone who should get CHIP coverage does. "I am committed that any child that's eligible ought to be on the CHIP roll," he said. HB 109 was referred to conference committee Thursday, where five Senators and five Representatives will work on a compromise between the two versions of the bill.
Though the deadline for bill passage passed Wednesday night, work still continues in conference committees. The TYC reform bill, SB 103, had its conference committee report confirmed Thursday, sending that bill to the Governor's desk. Conferees on the budget announced they have reached a consensus, and the Legislature should vote on that compromise this weekend.