And We’re Off!

We’re still a month and a half away from the start of the 83rd Legislature, but activity for the upcoming legislative session is already under way.

Elections

The November 6th elections saw the re-election of President Barack Obama and a host of new freshman in the United States Congress and Texas Legislature.

Ted Cruz will replace retiring United States Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.  In the United States House, as a result of redistricting, the Texas Congressional delegation expanded from 32 to 36 members.  23 Republicans and 13 Democrats from Texas will be sworn in to the 113th Congress, including former Texas House members Joaquin Castro, Pete Gallego, Marc Veasy and Randy Weber.  

The 83rd Texas Legislature will convene in January with a number of new faces.  The Texas Senate will boast 19 Republicans and 11 Democrats, including 5 freshmen.  The Texas House will have 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats, with 43 of them new members.  Redistricting reduced the Harris County State Legislative Delegation from 32 to 31 members—7 state senators and 24 state representatives.   State Representative Larry Taylor will be replacing outgoing Harris County State Senator Mike Jackson. Additional freshmen in the delegation include MaryAnn Perez, who is replacing the late State Representative Ken Legler, and Gene Wu, who is replacing retiring State Representative Scott Hochberg.  A special election to fill the vacant seat of the late State Senator Mario Gallegos is expected to be held within the next 2 months.  State Representative Carol Alvarado and former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia are among those seeking the seat.

Legislation

The first day to pre-file bills for the upcoming 83rd Legislative Session was Monday, November 12th, and Texas legislators have been busy.  As of Monday, November 19th, 318 bills had been pre-filed on topics ranging from healthcare to education to transportation.  Among them are a number of behavioral health-related bills, including:

HB 37 by Menendez, which would require immediate reinstatement of Medicaid for eligible individuals who are released from county jails. This bill would assist with continuity of care for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders and other physical illnesses;

SB 58 by Nelson, which would integrate mental health, substance abuse and physical health services into Medicaid Managed Care Plans.  The biggest impact of this legislation would be the carve-in of targeted case management and rehabilitation services, which currently are provided solely by the publicly-funded Community Mental Health Centers, such as Harris County MHMRA. This legislation is in line with a recommendation from the Public Consulting Group’s Analysis of the Texas Public Behavioral Health System: Recommendations for System Redesign;  

SB 90 by Ellis, which would require low-level drug possession offenders with no violent or serious criminal history to be placed on probation and sent to personalized drug treatment rather than being sent to prison; and

SJR 8 by Ellis, a constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid eligibility to individuals making up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level, as provided for under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It is estimated that 90% of current non-Medicaid eligible individuals receiving publicly funded mental health and substance abuse services would qualify for Medicaid under the expanded eligibility set forth in the ACA.

For a more in depth view of behavioral health legislation, go to http://www.mhahouston.org/files/239/.

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