RISING MEDICAID CASES IMPACT STATE BUDGET
|Lt. Governor David Dewhurst (left) and Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan brief reporters on the unexpected increase in Medicaid caseloads.|
(AUSTIN) — Senate and House budget writers are at work hammering out differences between the two chambers' budgets, but now they have to contend with a billion dollar increase in Medicaid costs. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said Tuesday that the Legislative Budget Board recommended the Legislature add up to a billion more dollars to cope with rising case loads in the troubled economy. "We all know that when the economy slows, more people become eligible for Medicaid, but we weren't expecting this big of an increase," he said. The Senate already included $750 million for expected Medicaid caseload growth, but that number could approach two billion if the budget conference committee follows the LBB recommendations. Senate Finance Chair Senator Steve Ogden of Bryan said the new LBB recommendations will impact discretionary spending. "The budget's tight, and it just got tighter," he said.
Both Ogden and Dewhurst said lawmakers will find a way to balance the state budget before the session ends June 1. "This makes writing the budget more challenging, but we will balance it," said Dewhurst.
Also Tuesday, Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano held a press conference to promote legislation aimed at online sexual predators. Children are exposed to convicted sex offenders on the Internet, she said, pointing to a recent release by the social networking site MySpace, saying they have purged more than 90,000 such offenders from the site in the last year. The Senate passed a bill by Shapiro Monday that would expand the sex offender registry, requiring offenders to submit online identifiers to the state to be in compliance with registry laws. "It gives law enforcement and social networking site hosts the tools necessary to assist in identifying convicted sex offenders on-line," said Shapiro.
SB 689 would require sex offenders to include e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers and online identifiers, like usernames, to the state. The state would make this information available to social networking sites to screen members and find any convicted sex offenders. The bill would also prohibit certain sex offenders from using the Internet, if their conviction was related to an offense against the child and the crime was a result of on-line contact. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, May 6 at 11 a.m.