One Month In: A Look at the 85th Legislature

On Tuesday, January 10, the 85th Texas Legislature was officially gaveled into session. As we mark the close of the first month of this biennial 140-day period, our team at Mental Health America of Greater Houston took a quick look back at what has happened thus far inside Austin’s Pink Dome.

Biennial Revenue Estimate
Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the 2018-2019 Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) on Monday, January 9, kicking off the 85th Legislative Session with a bleak fiscal report that left lawmakers with roughly $104.9 billion in general revenue funding for the state’s two-year budget. The 2018-2019 BRE is approximately $7 billion less than the 2015 allocation, largely because of low oil prices coupled with the required reallocation of billions of tax revenue dedicated to the State Highway Fund following the passage of Proposition 7* in 2015.

Estimates suggest that it would require $109 billion in general revenue monies to fund state programs at currently established levels. In July, anticipating the budget shortfall to come, Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus requested all state agencies to scale back their budget requests by 4 percent in an effort to curb government spending. Mental and behavioral health services were deemed priority funding areas, along with funds for public schools, border security, and Child Protective Services, and were excluded from the required 4 percent scale back scenarios. However, the 2.7 percent decrease in overall funding for state provided services established by the Comptroller’s BRE in January leaves less money available for schools, child welfare, and health care, among many others, than originally expected – leading some advocates to call for legislators to dip into the Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly known as the “Rainy Day Fund,” which is currently valued at nearly $12 billion. Legislators have been reticent to draw funds from this emergency fund in the past, which points to difficult – and contentious – decisions to come.

*Proposition 7, passed by taxpayers in November 2015, requires the state to dedicate up to $5 billion in sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund.

Base Budget Breakdown: SB 1/HB 1
On Tuesday, January 17, State Senator Jane Nelson, Finance Chairman, filed SB 1 – the  Texas General Appropriations Act, which serves as the Senate’s base budget and establishes state funding priorities for the next two years. SB 1 includes $103.6 billion of general state funding with overall spending — including federal and other funds — of $213.4 billion.

Like many of her colleagues, Senator Nelson shared concerns regarding “difficult decisions to make this session,” which makes the inclusion of key funding items for mental and behavioral health significant as they signal the Senate’s commitment to prioritizing these issues this session. Included in the budget is funding for workforce development, with an additional $44.1 million for Graduate Medical Education to ensure residency slots are available for Texas medical school graduates; and $260 million for Child Protective Services. To address current needs, SB 1 committed $1 billion for the state hospital system and facilities and $63 million for community mental health services to eliminate waitlists. Women’s health and veterans’ services programs maintained existing funding levels, including funding for Texas Veterans + Family Alliance, a $20 million grant program to assist veterans with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues.

Shortly after SB 1 was filed, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus filed HB 1, the House’s initial 2018-2019 budget. HB 1 includes $108.9 billion in general fund allocations, approximately $4 billion more than the Comptroller’s estimated available revenue, and a total budget of $221.3 billion.

The House’s base budget touts a significant investment in public education, child protection, and mental health services, while only increasing the state budget by less than one percent. “We keep overall spending low while making investments in children and our future … This is the first step toward producing a balanced budget that reflects the priorities of the Texas House and does not raise taxes,” said Speaker Joe Straus.

Under the House budget, mental and behavioral health services receive $162 million of additional funding. These funds would eliminate wait lists for mental health services and allow for the implementation of many of the House Select Committee on Mental Health’s recommendations, including efforts to increase the implementation of early identification and jail diversion programs across the state. As in SB 1, HB 1 also earmarks monies for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans.

Nearly $8 billion separates the Senate and House base budgets [difference between the Senate and House base budgets ] and we have until May 29th to see how negotiations between the two chambers unfold.

House Select Committee on Mental Health – Interim Report to the 85th Texas Legislature
In early January, the House released an interim report from the Select Committee on Mental Health. Speaker Joe Straus formed the Select Committee in November 2015 to better understand the existing behavioral health system for adults and children in Texas. Chaired by Representative Four Price, the Select Committee on Mental Health held eight hearings throughout 2015-2016. Representatives Garnet Coleman, Sarah Davis, and Senfronia Thompson served as Houston’s representatives on the committee.

When he announced the formation of the committee, Speaker Straus identified the need for “[a] smarter approach to mental health” and expressed his hope that this approach would result in “improve[d] treatment and care while saving taxpayers money.” The interim report is intended to “give the House valuable guidance,” on how to make positive advancements in behavioral health during this legislative session.

The interim report highlights opportunities to solve existing service gaps and key takeaways include:

  • Prioritizing early intervention and prevention measures – especially among school age children;
  • Expanding innovative public school-based programs;
  • Sustainability of the 1115 Transformation Waiver / DSRIP funded programs;
  • Expanding bed capacity by expanding step-down beds to provide a continuum of care, including expanding jail diversion programs for nonviolent offenders;
  • Continuing to address mental health workforce shortages through educational incentives and by expanding the availability and utilization of technology, such as telemedicine;
  • Integrating healthcare to treat the whole person, physically and mentally, although questions remain among the committee surrounding the implementation.

Committee Assignments: Senate and House Committees Announced
On January 18, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced Senate committee assignments for the 85th Legislative Session. The Houston delegation includes Chair and Vice Chair assignments to the Criminal Justice, Education, and State Affairs, Intergovernmental Relations, and Business & Commerce Committees, and is represented on committees relevant to behavioral health work.

houston-senate-delegation

Traditionally, behavioral health bills pass through the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but to monitor the Center for School Behavioral Health’s bills and issues relevant to Veterans Behavioral Health Initiative, MHA of Greater Houston will also watch the Senate Education Committee and Senate Veteran Affairs & Border Security. Houston Senator Borris Miles is a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. The Education Committee had two members of the Greater Houston delegation: Senator Larry Taylor, Chair, and Senator Paul Bettencourt.

Health and Human Services Committee

Role Senator City
Chair Charles Schwertner Georgetown
Vice Chair Carlos Uresti San Antonio
Member Dawn Buckingham Lakeway
Member Konni Burton Colleyville
Member Lois W. Kolkhorst Brenham
Member Borris L. Miles Houston
Member Charles Perry Lubbock
Member Van Taylor Plano
Member Kirk Watson Austin

Education Committee

Role Senator City
Chair Larry Taylor Friendswood
Vice Chair Eddie Lucio, Jr. Brownsville
Member Paul Bettencourt Houston
Member Donna Campbell New Braunfels
Member Bob Hall Edgewood
Member Don Huffines Dallas
Member Bryan Hughes Mineola
Member Kel Seliger Amarillo
Member Van Taylor Plano
Member Carlos Uresti San Antonio
Member Royce West Dallas

Senate Veteran Affairs & Border Security

Role Senator City
Chair Donna Campbell New Braunfels
Vice Chair Don Huffines Dallas
Member Dawn Buckingham Lakeway
Member Bob Hall Edgewood
Member Eddie Lucio, Jr. Brownsville
Member José Rodríguez El Paso
Member Carlos Uresti San Antonio

On February 9, Speaker Straus shared House assignments to the 38 standing committees, as well as the creation of two new select committees: the Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility and the Select Committee on Texas Ports, Innovation & Infrastructure.

houston-house-delegation

The Houston delegation includes Chair assignments to Appropriations, County Affairs, General Investigating & Ethics, Government Transparency & Operation Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Local Consent & Calendars, Public Education, Special Purpose Districts, and Urban Affairs. Vice Chairs committee assignments from the Greater Houston area include Corrections, Environmental Regulations, Economic & Small Business Development, International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs, Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, Special Purpose Districts, and Texas Port, Innovation, & Infrastructure.

House Committees of particular interest to MHA of Greater Houston are Public Education, Human Services, Public Health, and Defense & Veterans’ Affairs. Representative Dan Huberty chairs Public Education and members include Representative Alma Allen, Harold Dutton, Jr. and Dwayne Bohac. Public Health membership includes Representatives Garnet Coleman and Tom Oliverson. Houston-area legislators make up half of the membership of the Human Services Committee with Representatives Mark Keough, Rick Miller, Valoree Swanson, and Gene Wu.

Public Education

Role Representative City
Chair Dan Huberty Houston
Vice Chair Diego Bernal San Antonio
Member Alma Allen Houston
Member Joe Deshotel Beaumont
Member Harold Dutton, Jr. Houston
Member Lance Gooden Terrell
Member Dwayne Bohac Houston
Member Ken King Canadian
Member Linda Koop Dallas
Member Morgan Meyer Dallas
Member Gary VanDeaver New Boston

Human Services

Role Representative City
Chair Richard Peña Raymond Laredo
Vice Chair James Frank Wichita Fall
Member Mark Keough The Woodlands
Member Stephanie Klick   Fort Worth
Member  Toni Rose  Dallas
Member Rick Miller Sugar Land
Member Ina Minjarez San Antonio
Member Valoree Swanson Houston
Member Gene Wu Houston


Public Health

Role Representative City
Chair Four Price Amarillo
Vice Chair J.D. Sheffield Gatesville
Member Garnet Coleman Houston
Member R.D. “Bobby” Guerra Mission
Member William “Bill” Zedler Arlington
Member Diana Arévalo San Antonio
Member Nicole Collier Fort Worth
Member Phillip Cortez San Antonio
Member Stephanie Klick Fort Worth
Member Tom Oliverson Cypress

Defense & Veterans’ Affairs

Role Representative City
Chair Roland Gutierrez San An
Vice Chair César José Blanco El Paso
Member Diana Arévalo San Antonio
Member Stan Lambert Abilene
Member Briscoe Cain Deer Park
Member Dan Flynn Canton
Member Terry Wilson Marble Falls

Stay Engaged: Know Your Reps, Advocacy Taskforce, and Social Media 

The procedural nature of the Texas Legislature requires a somewhat paradoxical mix of steadied patience and swift action. In this space, we’ll discuss effective advocacy strategies in the weeks ahead. One simple step to begin to make your voice heard in Austin is to become familiar with the offices of your State Senator and State Representative. Find their district and capitol offices, save their phone numbers, and research the issues they care about the most.

Here within Mental Health America of Greater Houston, the Center for School Behavioral Health and the Women’s Mental Health Initiative joined forces and launched an Advocacy Task Force for the 85th Texas Legislature. The Task Force will be instrumental in advancing legislation around children and women’s mental health in the coming months. We welcome anyone interested in helping our cause to join the Task Force and our Rapid Response Team. For more information, visit our Advocacy Task Force page or email Lauren at lpursley@mhahouston.org.

To keep up with our advocacy work, check back in with Minding Houston every other Thursday starting February 23, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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