TMA Legislative News Hotline: Thursday, May 7, 2015


The Senate State Affairs Committee this morning heard testimony on House Bill 80, which would impose a statewide ban on texting or talking on handheld phones while driving. “Distracted driving, such as texting, interferes with the primary task of driving,” the Texas Public Health Coalition said in written testimony delivered to the committee. “Our brains have a limited ability to perform more than one cognitive task at one time. When drivers’ attention is focused on something other than driving, their reaction time slows, and their driving ability is diminished.” The bill’s author is Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland); Senate sponsors are Sens. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler). The House approved the bill March 26.


Two very good telemedicine bills won preliminary approval from the Texas House of Representatives yesterday. Both are on today’s calendar for final passage. House Bill 2004 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) would test emergency telemedicine consultations for isolated rural areas. House Bill 3476 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would establish pilot programs to test in-home telemonitoring services for certain patients covered by Medicaid and other state-run health care programs. Thanks to all TMA members who called their representatives asking for support of both bills, with no amendments. Both bills won approval with no damaging amendments.

Two more good telemedicine bills, authored by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), are up in the House today. TMA supports both, again calling for no amendments. House Bill 1878 would allow the state Medicaid program to pay physicians for school-based telemedicine services involving the school nurse. House Bill 1623 would allow Medicaid to pay for home telemonitoring services for certain children with chronic or complex medical needs.

Senate Bill 1753 by Sen. Donna Campbell, MD (R-New Braunfels), and sponsored in the House by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) is also on today’s General House Calendar. This is a follow-up to a bill lawmakers passed in 2013 that required hospitals to identify on ID badges the license type of the physicians and providers, and whether they were students, residents, or interns. Unfortunately, these badges aren’t working as intended because they use confusing abbreviations to indicate the type of license the badge-wearer holds. SB 1753 would require hospitals to spell out, in plain English, whether the person wearing the badge is a “physician,” a “dentist,” a “therapeutic optometrist,” a “clinical nurse specialist,” etc. TMA supports the bill.

The bill to streamline the provision of direct primary care services won approval yesterday from the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. House Bill 1945 by Rep. Greg Bonnen, MD (R-Friendswood), and Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) applies to physicians and patients who contract for primary care outside of the structure, restrictions, and hassles of a health insurance plan. The bill would clarify the definition of “direct primary care” and provide important protections for physicians and patients who use this model of health care. It passed in the House April 15.

The Senate yesterday approved House Bill 751 by Rep. John Zerwas, MD (R-Richmond), and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). The bill would set requirements for prescribing and pharmaceutical substitution of biological products. The measure would require pharmacies to notify prescribing physicians if they fill a prescription using a biosimilar drug. One amendment was added in the Senate that could possibly cause concern for physicians; TMA is analyzing it now. The bill passed in the House April 14.

The bill to outlaw minors’ ability to buy e-cigarettes and similar vapor products is coming back around again. On Monday, Senate Bill 97 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) was up for debate in the House. A point of order was called on the bill due to a drafting error, and it was recommitted to the House Public Health Committee. That committee immediately fixed it and voted the bill back out, so it is awaiting another chance to be scheduled for House debate. The bill would regulate e-cigarettes similarly to tobacco products and prevent vapor products from being sold or given to anyone under age 27 without valid identification. It also would prohibit students or others from using vapor products at school-related or school-sanctioned events, on or off campus.


Here’s a little help in deciphering some of the legislative lexicon we hear more of in the final weeks of the regular session. The process stems from the language in the Texas Constitution that states, “No bill shall have the force of a law, until it has been read on three several days in each house, and free discussion allowed thereon.” Now that doesn’t mean someone is reading the text of each bill for three days in the House and Senate (even when the presiding officer says, “The clerk will read the bill.”), but it does lay out how lawmakers must handle bills as they move forward.

  • “First reading” happens when a bill is introduced in the House or Senate and then referred to a committee.
  • “Second reading” occurs after the bill returns from committee and has its first real debate on the floor. When a bill passes second reading, we often say it has “received preliminary approval.”
  • “Third reading” usually occurs on the very next day after second reading. Lawmakers have another chance to debate and amend bills before voting again.

When the Senate or House approves a bill on third reading, the presiding officer proclaims the bill is “finally passed.” That’s a little misleading. It means only that the bill, in its current form, has passed through that chamber of the legislature. The process will get repeated in the other chamber, and sent to a conference committee if the two sides don’t agree on identical language.


The physician of the day at the Capitol is Erica Swegler, MD, of Austin. Dr. Swegler graduated from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She is a member of TMA and the Travis County Medical Society (TCMS), is a TCMS delegate to TMA, and a past member of several TMA committees.


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