Looking Back, Looking Forward
A weekly update of what just happened and what's ahead in the Lege.
updated Apr. 24
Apr. 24 - 30
We're looking at this week for the SSLC Restructuring Bill (SB 602, Hinojosa) to go to the floor. This bill would get the process started on right-sizing Texas' SSLC network. Call your Senator to show your support. Look up their contact info.
Some of the special ed bills we're watching are picking up some momentum and getting hearings. There are more that could use a nudge, though, check out our action alert.
Apr. 17 - 23
We have a great big (shrinking) list of special education bills, and really pushed last week to get some of them heard in House and Senate education committees. Time is running out for bills to get committee hearings, so we're pleased to report that these have advanced:
- SB 748 (Zaffirini) and HB 4027 (Allen), on transition planning
- SB 436 (Rodríguez), on SpEd advisory committees
- HB 3437 (Moody), on TEA SpEd recovery program.
The State Budget. Oh, the State Budget. All Conference Committee members have been named and are meeting very soon to hash out on a final draft. Community services are really hurting for dollars at this point, and members need some pressure to make sure there is sufficient (or any) funding for things like a raise for community attendants and reducing the Medicaid waiver interest list. Budget details will be finagled behind closed doors, so the best way to weigh in at this point is to contact the members of the Committee. We've got you started with an email.
Want more lege updates? We recommend:
- The Center for Public Policy Priorities' Point of Order weekly updates follow big lege developments, including budget and healthcare. Plus, neat, explain-y videos.
- The Texas Council of Developmental Disabilities' Texas Legislative e-News and bill tracker are both thorough and handy.
Mar. 13 - Apr. 16
Looking way, way back...
Our April 6th Raise Your Voice Advocacy Training was a grand success. Over 50 advocates traveled to Austin from all over the state to meet with their legislators about topics ranging from attendant wages to the Medicaid waiver interest lists. It was touching to witness folks emphatically share their stories and perspectives. Right: Judy Telge (CTD Board), Crystal Lyons (CTD Board), Melissa McNeely (RISE CIL), Tracy Espinoza (attendant), Renee Lopez (ADAPT of Texas), and Julie Espinoza (REACH CIL). Photo courtesy of Julie Espinoza.
HB 1527 (Simmons, etc.), which adds people with disabilities to the Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Program, was unanimously voted favorably out of committee. Right now, Chase is working to define the parameters of “disability” in the language of the bill, to give it a better shot with some grumbling dissenters on the House floor.
HB 713 (Wu, etc.) and SB 160 (Rodríguez) are now the primary bills seeking to remove the 8.5% Cap on special education students. HB 713 was voted favorably from committee as substituted and assigned to Local and Consent, which means it can be moved through the process faster. Chris is still working on a number of other sped bills, but HB 713 is doing the best so far.
Our advocacy team (3 seasoned guys and a crackerjack intern) have also been pushing bills to:
- provide sample ballots for visually impaired voters
- prevent suicide by self-inflicted gun shot wound
- prevent the implementation of step therapy protocols in prescription drug coverage (HB 1464, G. Bonnen, etc.)
- give voters with some disabilities priority in long lines at the polls- this one's gaining real traction in the House (HB 658, Bernal)
- pass a statewide texting while driving ban- coming up in Calendars soon! (HB 62, Craddick, etc.)
- strengthen accessible parking laws enforcement (SB 2157, Zaffirini)
- establish statewide accessibility requirements for TNCs like Uber and Lyft
- terminate a guardianship of the estate with a Texas ABLE Program account (SB 1764, Zaffirini)
Finally, we roped in our Susie Angel to give invited testimony on a bill that would affect her personally, SB 1927 (Kolkhorst), which expands the limited dental services under Medicaid. She had the Senate on the edges of their chairs when she recounted how she was at risk of going to the emergency room if she hadn’t found a generous, private dentist to provided her the service she desperately needed. Right: Susie with Sen. Kolkhorst.
Texas House and Senate budget writers unveiled preliminary spending plans that are $8 billion apart, setting the stage for political fights. Some things to watch:
- The Senate would reduce Health and Human Services programs by about $1.2 billion, mostly by limiting Medicaid growth. The House plan envisions a $1.1 billion cut. Either of those options will result in a loss of over a billion dollars in federal funding for Medicaid. Because you know, federal money is so... un-Texas-y.
- For public education, the Senate proposes $680.7 million in additional funding while the House seeks an additional $2.1 billion. Not enough, either of them.
- On the plus side, both the House and Senate provide more funding for CPS programs, and it looks like a guardianship pilot project will get funding.
CTD joined the Autism Society's April 12th rally, training a group of first time advocates and providing support to them as they met with legislators to discuss bills relating to special education, teacher training, and an Autism pilot program.
Mar. 6 - 12
Major news on the special education cap- at the very last minute, TEA responded to our letter and agreed to ditch the 8.5% cap.
We announced the details at our press conference with Disability Rights Texas Monday. Watch it here (and crank up the sound).
Committees this week laid groundwork for the budget, supplemental budget, and (in the House) covering the potential budget shortfalls with the potential use of the rainy day fund and decrease of transportation funds.
The 60-day bill filing deadline was on Friday. No new bills can be introduced. After hours and hours of walking the halls, CTD was successful in getting every one of our legislatives priorities filed as legislation. Special thanks to Rep. Moody, Rep. Hinojosa, Rep. Bernal, and many legislative staff members for their help!
Nationally, the House released its proposal for replacing the Affordable Care Act. Surprising no one, people with disabilities are among many groups that wouldn't fare well under this plan, particularly in Texas. The Center for Public Policy Priorities digs in (video).
Feb. 27 - Mar. 5
Many Committees met (some for the first time) this week. Now is still a great time to watch a committee's Organizational Meeting. These set the tone for future meetings and can give you an idea of how a particular committee will be run (especially of interest if there's a new chair, and there are many this session). Check out the Video Archives, typically listed below the current meetings on the "Video Broadcasts" page for each Chamber on TX Lege Online's homepage.
Monday, Senate State Affairs heard five guardianship bills that CTD and the Guardianship Reform and Supported Decision Making (GRSDM) workgroup supports and helped write.
Feb. 20 - Feb. 26
Holiday Schmoliday. Monday was President's Day, and while most of the Legislators were still in district, House Appropriations started on time at 7:30 a.m. As they did every day for the remaining week.
Later in the week, CTD testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Article II (Health and Human Services) better known as the HAC. Dennis and Chase testified on the personal attendant wage crisis, and Chase spoke about fully funding important items such as Comprehensive Rehab Services and other programs that have either been left of out the biennial budget or are underfunded.
Most of the non-budget committees focused on the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) and various Priority Bills.
The full Senate and House met on the floor most days to assign bills to their (sometimes surprising) committees and to pass resolutions.
A great way to see what's coming up in committees is to...
To review what's already happened in committee...
Feb. 13 - 19
Rise and shine. House Appropriations met most of the week bright and early at 7:30 a.m. Representative Chairman Dr. Zerwas led the informative hearings. Subcommittee for various sections of the budget (Articles I- VIII) met and will continue the following week. Keep up with the meeting announcements.
Many Senate committees met this week, and are already hearing some bills on the Floor. Emergency bills in the Senate are moving and may be available if they pass for assignment to the House. Fast and furious!
Even if love was in the air for Valentine's Day, the proposed budgets for the Senate and House are light years apart (CPPP has a very handy side-by-side comparison). Some folks are speculating that a "special session" will be the only way to bring these two love-birds together.
CTD attended many meeting and hearings, but none more ridiculous than the Texas Special Education Continuous Advisory Committee (CAC). Limited public testimony and input into special education planning and policy is a YUGE issue for parents and disability organizations. Keep your eye on SB 436 (Rodriguez).
This week was particularly hectic week as it marks the first time during session that a bill has to pass a deadline or die. While not written in stone, proposed legislation must be submitted to the Texas Legislative Council (they draft the bills) before 5:00 on Friday.
Feb. 6 - 12
How can a slow week for hearings be so busy?
Well, partially because the Speaker of the House appointed House Committees (finally!) and scrambled the balance of leadership in ways that many representatives and advocates were not expecting. Some of the appointments were made due to key retirements from senior representatives, and an obvious vision of the future Texas House of Representatives as a more diverse and younger chamber.
Our ED was literally jumping up and down we were pleased with Speaker Straus' appointments to Appropriations, Public Education, and Public Health. CTD congratulates, Representatives Zerwas, Huberty, and Price!
Senate Finance continued to meet all week about funding a variety of state agencies and various courts.
We have a brag! Tuesday evening, Chase Bearden, our Director of Advocacy and Organizing, received the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute's annual Luminary Award for his advocacy work for Texans with disabilities (right, with fellow honoree Rep. Four Price). Congrats, Chase!
Jan. 30 - Feb. 5
Senate Finance met on Article II (Health and Human Services) with public testimony. Many exceptional items were dropped from the Senate budget. Advocates were dismayed and disappointed to see legislators ignore cost-effective programs that pull down matching federal dollars and save the state of Texas money (ahem, Medicaid block grant). Advocates worry that the Senate budget has been tailored to remove funding restrictions that help support people with disabilities living and prospering in the community.
Special Education: We sent a letter to TEA and Commissioner Morath demanding that Morath follow through on his public promises to permanently eliminate the arbitrary 8.5% cap. If he refuses, Disability Rights Texas and Winston & Strawn LLP intend to file a lawsuit on our behalf. If you're wondering, our petition on the SpEd cap is still active!
Distracted Driving: We attended Drive Out Texas Distraction's briefing Thursday afternoon (Feb. 2) on upcoming legislation to address distracted driving (aka texting while driving). Making rounds for the 4th session, such legislation would significantly contribute to pedestrian safety for Texans with disabilities. View the live stream of the briefing.
ACA Repeal: At the exact same time (Feb. 2) (who plans these things!?), the Coalition of Health and Human Services Advocates held a press conference to discuss the likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and what a Medicaid block grant would be like in Texas. A group of respected policy wonks, including our Dennis Borel, went over the ins and outs generally, and then we heard from five individuals who would feel the effects in their daily lives. You can view the live stream of the press conference, too.
The Governor announced his legislative priorities and released his budget proposal, which included $60 million to increase the current $8 hourly floor wage for community attendants. Without other details, we estimate this will equate to a 35-cent bump in the attendants' hourly pay. Our ED Dennis Borel was very diplomatic when he said "this raise is way below what is needed." More on community attendant wages.
Also at the Capitol and of note this week, public testimony was taken for the SB 4 (sanctuary cities legislation). After 16 hours of testimony into the next morning, a 7-2 vote passed the legislation out of committee.
Jan. 23 - 29
We set a date for our annual conference and rally day, co-hosted with The Arc of Texas: April 5 - 6. Save it!
Special education: we started a petition to TEA to take immediate action on their 8.5% enrollment cap. Rabble-rouse here.
Jan. 16 - 22
Inauguration of new US President: Making good on campaign promises, Pres. Trump signed an executive order Friday (Jan. 20) to weaken the Affordable Care Act. Fun fact, did you know many people with disabilities rely on the ACA due to pre-existing conditions? There is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen to Medicaid entitlements (which guarantee services to qualifying individuals) and ACA programs like Community First Choice (which CTD fought for in Texas, btw). Surprising no one, we're watching this closely.
New group Texans for Special Ed Reform (TxSER): Did you know that parents of children who need special education services were fed up with the denial of services, inadequate services, and being ignored by school districts and the Texas Education Agency? True story (not an alternative fact). Those parents are organizing! CTD has joined TxSER, check them out on Facebook.
The House and Senate released their budgets: Kind of. On Friday (Jan. 22), the House still had not filed their actual budget bill, but documents were available from the Legislative Budget Board. The Senate allocated $213.4 billion, compared to $221.3 billion for the House. The budget for 2016-2017 was $209.4 billion (which includes Federal dollars), but there are always additional expenditures that are added to a supplemental budget (covering 2016-2017), which is currently being developed. With expected population growth, less state tax income each year from tax cuts last biennium, and expected tax cuts this session, state spending will be between 5.6 and 7.9% less. Texas' GDP will take a hit on infrastructure, health services, public education (but not border security...). Read more from the Texas Tribune.
Supplemental Appropriations Bill: Each biennium there are circumstances which result in shortfalls, or more funds than what has been specially allocated in the general budget. These differences in what was expected, versus what was (or will be) spent, are addressed by the Legislature in one of their first actions via the Supplemental Appropriations Bill. Billions of dollars in shortfall are expected for the 2016-2017 biennial budget. For more information on the current Budget, the Legislative Budget Board's website provides a comprehensive look at every detail you could imagine.
Senate Finance Committees Announced: You loved them last year, and now for an encore performance - a mostly unchanged Senate Finance Committee returns to action. See the full list.
Health and Human Services Transition Oversight Joint Committee met Tuesday (Jan. 17) to discuss HHSC transition and other issues, including compliance with last session's Sunset bills.
Resolutions and Recognitions: Chambers recognized and pass resolutions on a great many things involving a great many people and ideas. These are all non-binding statements.
Jan. 9 - 15
CTD held our Legislative Briefing Monday (left: Amy Fawell of Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA) on her group's goals for medical marijuana). Video and downloads from the event are available.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced that Texas will have $104.87 Billion in state funds available for the next two-year (biennial) budget, which is for 2018-2019. This is 2.7% less than was available for the 2015 Legislature. Review the 2016-2017 budget.
Legislators were sworn into service with family and friends in attendance. Not "business as usual" the halls of the Capitol were full of families, children, and supporters dressed in their best, exuberantly supporting newly elected officials. It was a day that really puts a personal face on session.
Representative Joe Straus was elected as Speaker of the House in an unopposed vote. This is in stark contrast with previous years' contentious votes that challenged Straus' nomination. Shockingly, former opposition members spoke on behalf of the Speaker's reasonable and inclusive governing style.
The adoption of House and Senate rules wiped the camaraderie and smiles right off everyone's face.
The Sunset Advisory Commission met for the final time and approved the last agency recommendations. All reports, decisions, and input can be found at Sunset.Texas.gov.