This has been the first week where several committees have held hearings that have lasted well after midnight. For example, the House Insurance committee was still discussing several health insurance related bills Thursday morning at 2:30am. But, while committees are meeting late into the night, very few bills have actually made it out of committee. There seems to be a developing pattern where bills are brought up for consideration, explained by their authors, testimony is taken, and then the bills are left pending without the chair of the committee calling for a vote. Traditionally, difficult or controversial bills were left pending so that the legislative staff and interested parties could work together to modify the bill and develop it into a committee substitute that would (hopefully) be an improvement on the original bill, but this year it is happening to almost every bill.
While chatting with several advocates about this, I did a little counting and found that the House Public Health Committee has only reported out 13 bills to the full House (last session it was 33 at this point), and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee has only reported out 39 bills (last session it was 146 by this point). Lest you think this is a health–related phenomenon, only 89 bills have been passed by either chamber and sent to the other for consideration (last session it was 797 by this point). Simply put, by the end of the second week in April in any of the legislative sessions in my memory (going back to 1993), there were lots of bills moving through the process. So, does this mean there is a flood of bills coming in the next couple of weeks or is it just a slow year? I would postulate that due to the nature of the limited issue-related discussions during the elections of 2014, we will simply see significantly fewer bills get to the Governor’s desk.
The easiest bills to track are sometimes the ones we like the most but are not moving, like and a for the subsidized insurance purchased through the federal health insurance exchange (thanks for the effort to Reps. Garnet Coleman, Chris Turner, Sens. Rodney Ellis, Sylvia Garcia, and many others). One of the most important bills that is actually moving is , by Sen. Jane Nelson, relating to the continuation of the Health and Human Services Commission (the HHSC sunset bill); but even tracking this has been somewhat of an adventure this session. The reason for the challenge is that the authors chose to first pass , a non-substantive recodification bill, which simply updates and cleans up outdated language. SB 219 had to get passed by both chambers before the substantive bill, SB 200, could really get rolling. So, now we have a 96-page that was adopted on Tuesday. While some of the deadlines in SB 200 relating to the reorganization were pushed to 2019, it is fundamentally still a streamlining effort for HHSC and a consolidation of administration that we anticipate will take years to make any impact at the local level.
One of the bills that has actually made it out of the Senate and relates to Alliance priorities is by Senator Schwertner, which should enhance the adequacy of provider networks in managed care organizations that manage Medicaid populations in Texas. The House received SB 760 on April 8 and will likely send it to a committee on Friday, April 10 or early next week.
Another important bill is , by Reps. John Zerwas, J.D. Sheffield, et al, relating to improving the tracking of immunization exemption rates in children. Based on the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland, several public health advocates raised concerns that such an outbreak could occur in several Texas schools where immunization rates have become very low due to parents exercising their exemption rights. This bill seeks to improve transparency on immunization rates to help inform parents of children who may be vulnerable due to compromised immune systems.
These are just a few of the active issues right now in Austin, but as things continue to accelerate, we will do our best to keep you informed. If you have questions about specific bills you have read about or heard about from other sources, please feel free to shoot me a question via email at .