New Faces of Leadership in 2015 House and Senate Committees

The Texas Legislature officially convened on January 13th, but truth be told, the first few weeks of most legislative sessions are more pomp and circumstance with very little work being done, and 2015 has been much the same. Now that the inaugural parades and parties are over and most elected officials in Austin have hired staff, it’s time to get to work. Yesterday (February 4th) marked the de facto beginning of the 84th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature as Speaker Straus named the House Committee appointments. On the other side of the Capitol, Lt. Governor Patrick named the Senate Committee appointments two weeks ago, but the only committee with any official action so far has been the Senate Committee on Finance, which has held hearings on the various articles of the budget. As it relates to the Harris County Healthcare Alliance issues and concerns, let’s take a look at who will be our key players.

The Texas Senate is a mixed bag for health and human services funding and policy that impacts the Houston region. The Senate Committee on Finance is where all the major funding decisions occur, and it includes five members from our region (four Republicans and one Democrat out of 15 total members): Senators Huffman, Bettencourt, Kolkhorst, Taylor (Larry), and Whitmire. While we know and respect all of these Senators, Huffman, Taylor and Kolkhorst have shown a high level of interest and expertise related to health funding, and we are optimistic that we can work with all three of these Senators and their staff. The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services is not quite as receptive to the urban areas, especially Houston. Only Senator Kolkhorst (whose district includes Katy and points west) is on this committee from our region, and only two of the nine members come from urban areas (Uresti of San Antonio and Rodriguez of El Paso). When it comes to the policy issues before this committee, we will be networking strategically with others who have similar concerns from outside our region.

The Texas House committee assignments are full of surprises this year. While we knew that the Speaker had several open chairs to fill from elections and retirements that moved people to the Senate and out of office, there were a number of surprises and some will impact our health and human services champions. The House Committee on Appropriations (HAC) will be chaired by Rep. Otto from Dayton, in the upper northeast part of the Houston region, as well as our good friend from here in Houston, Vice Chair Rep. Turner (Sylvester). This 27 member committee has traditionally broken down into four subcommittees, but those have yet to be named. In addition to this strong leadership from the Houston area, our region will be well represented on the committee by Reps. BellBonnen (Greg), Davis (Sarah), Miles, Miller (Rick), and Phelan. Of note relating to our issues before the HAC is the absence of State Rep. Zerwas, who had been the chair of the subcommittee on health and human services for the last several sessions. While he will not be on the HAC this year, Rep. Zerwas will be chairing the House Committee on Higher Education as well as serving on the House Committee on Public Health. Speaking of the 11 member Public Health Committee, it will be have a new chair in Rep. Myra Crownover from the Dallas region, and will include the following Houston members: Reps. Zerwas, Coleman, Davis (Sarah) and Miller (Rick). Stay tuned, now that we know the players and the roles they will be playing on the various committees, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work…