State of the State, Elections and More

It was another slow week for the Legislature, but as always, there were a few interesting developments to note.

State of the State

This morning, Governor Perry delivered his 7th biennial State of the State address to a joint session of the Texas Legislature.

Declaring that “the state of our State is stronger than ever,” the Governor discussed Texas’ strong business climate and being “the nation’s prime destination for employers and job-seekers alike.” He gave a few bipartisan shout-outs to members who have worked to improve the overall climate in Texas without bureaucracy, including local legislators Rep. Allen for her work in education, and Sen. Huffman for her work in reducing frivolous lawsuits against employers. He also discussed states that are following Texas’ lead, including Michigan’s recent decision to become a right-to-work state and Louisiana seeking to eliminate their state income tax. Specific initiative he endorsed (or opposed) included:

  • Providing at least $1.8 billion in tax relief over the biennium;
  • Not expanding Medicaid or establishing an exchange under the Affordable Care Act;
  • Providing $1.3 billion over the biennium for water and transportation infrastructure;
  • Expanding school choice through an increase in charter schools and scholarships; and
  • Tying at least 10% of state funding for a college or university to the graduation rate

Unfortunately, nothing about mental health or substance abuse, but maybe in two years!

Money, Money, Money

Budget hearings are underway in the Senate, and the Finance Committee has been hearing from the Legislative Budget Board, state agencies, and the public regarding the appropriations bill. The hearings for Article 2, which encompasses the Health and Human Services Commission, Department of State Health Services, Department of Family and Protective Services, Department of Aging and Disability Services and Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, will be held tomorrow and Thursday. I of course will be there advocating for more funding for ongoing mental health services, substance abuse prevention, intervention and treatment services, Prevention and Early Intervention Services, and school-based health centers.  Just a tip for anyone who plans on making the trek to Austin–public testimony on Article 2 will only be held for a couple of hours on Wednesday evening and then all day Thursday.  If you can only go on one day, I would make it Thursday.

Senate Terms

The terms of Texas state senators usually are staggered so all senators are not up for re-election at the same time. However, in the election cycle following redistricting, all 31 state senators are on the ballot. In the legislative session following that election cycle–like the current one–the senators have a lottery to determine who will be up for election in 2 years and who gets to wait another 4 years. That lottery took place last Wednesday, with 11 Republicans and 4 Democrats drawing 2-year terms, and 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats drawing 4-year terms. The Harris County-area senators drew the following terms:
Ellis–4
Huffman–2
Patrick–2
Taylor–4
Whitmire–2
Williams–4

For Senate District 6, vacated by the late Sen. Mario Gallegos, the Secretary of the Senate drew a 4-year term. Speaking of…

Battle of the Titans

This past Saturday was the special election for Senate District 6. The special election pretty much confirmed what most people already knew–this race was between two titans in Latino politics, and nobody else. Former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia led the race with 45.4% of the vote, and State Representative Carol Alvarado was close behind with 41.6%. The good news is, both candidates have a track record in support of behavioral health issues, so advocates will have another friend in the Senate no matter who wins. Governor Perry has less than two weeks to set the run-off election date, but it will likely be held in late February or early March. Between now and then, it’s fair to say that we will see a very “spirited” race. In the end, though, it’s all about turn-out, so grassroots mobilization will be key. May the best woman win!

Bill Updates

So far, almost 1,500 bills and resolutions have been filed in the House and Senate.  Because Senate committees already have been assigned, a number of bills have been referred and may soon be set for hearings.  Mental health and substance abuse bills of interest include:

HB 631 by Sara Davis, which requires the Department of State Health Services to establish an advance directive registry accessible by authorized healthcare professionals;

HB 645 by Dianne Patrick, which requires that at least one member of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists be a school psychologist; and

HB 720 by Price, which enhances the penalty to the next highest degree for intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault offenses if the person did not stop at the scene, contact law enforcement or emergency personnel, and remain on the scene until law enforcement or emergency personnel arrived

For a more in-depth look at filed behavioral health legislation, and to see MHA’s position on these bills, click here.

Hasta next time!

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