After the budget bills were filed, the rest of the second week of the 83rd Legislative Session was somewhat uneventful. But there were still a couple interesting developments to share. In this post we’ll focus on House Rule changes, Senate Committee appointments and more mental health and substance abuse bills.
Last Monday the House of Representatives passed HR 4, the resolution adopting the rules under which that chamber will operate this session. A few notable “good government” changes include:
- Making it more difficult to sustain points of order on committee reports and related documentation “if the purpose of that section of the rules has been substantially fulfilled and the violation does not deceive or mislead.” This will likely reduce the number of bills killed for purely technical reasons in the waning days of session;
- Allowing committees to post on the Internet committee substitutes and amendments that are laid out in committee (whether or not they have been adopted) and “non-confidential” written testimony by state agencies; and
- Directing the committee coordinator to determine the feasibility of and, as soon as appropriate, develop procedures to allow the submission of video testimony by the public on bills being heard in committee. For those of us who first have to travel to Austin, then wait like six hours to testify on the appropriations bill, wouldn’t this be FABULOUS???
Last Friday, Lt. Governor Dewhurst released the new Senate Committee appointments for the 83rd Legislature. The major committees of interest, at least from my perspective, are Finance, Health and Human Services, Education, and Criminal Justice. There weren’t a whole lot of changes in any of those committees from the previous session, but of course a couple notable Chair switches. Sen. Tommy Williams replaced retired Sen. Steve Ogden as Chair of Finance, and Sen. Dan Patrick replaced retired Sen. Florence Shapiro as Chair of Education. Both of these Harris County-area senators have previously stated their support for various mental health issues, so hopefully we will see that reflected in the bills that pass through their respective committees this session.
Harris County has another voice on Finance with the addition of Sen. Joan Huffman. This is a great move for mental health advocates, as Sen. Huffman co-authored an op-ed during the interim about the need for more funding for community-based mental health services. Health and Human Services looks like it will be a good committee for mental health advocates as well, with the addition of Sens. Larry Taylor and Charles Schwertner. I had a great meeting with Sen. Taylor during the interim, and he “gets” mental health. Sen. Larry Schwertner also has some knowledge of the issues, and it doesn’t hurt that his mother is the Board president of one of our MHA affiliates! Having Sen. Taylor on Education is another plus, and Sen. Lucio will make a great Vice-Chair. Sen. Rodney Ellis will no longer be serving on Criminal Justice, which is definitely a loss for those of us who advocate for criminal justice reforms, but I have no doubt that he will continue his dedicated work in this area.
Behavioral Health Legislation
We had another 150 or so bills filed last week and now are up to 949 bills filed, as of Monday, January 21st. Newly filed mental health and substance abuse bills include:
HB 576 by Guillen, which requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to create a system to track the careers of medical school graduates, including how long they work in primary care and which specialties they choose, and how long they work in a professional shortage area;
HB 592 by Naishtat, which adds Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the list of serious mental illnesses for which health insurance plans are required to provide coverage; and
HB 596 by Naishtat, which allows the prescription and use of marijuana for medical purposes. Yup, you read correctly!
For a more in-depth look at filed behavioral health legislation and to see MHA Houston’s position on these bills, click here:
Stay tuned for more news!