TMA Legislative Hotline

Hotline is a daily electronic newsletter exclusively for TMA members that reports the legislature's latest actions on bills affecting Texas medicine.

Hotline Jan. 21, 2021: Physicians to Have Strong Voice in Texas Senate

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When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released the Texas Senate’s committee assignments last week, the Texas Medical Association was pleased to see extensive committee roles carved out for the chamber’s three physician-legislators.

And among the Senate committees that TMA tracks closely, there were few changes in Lieutenant Governor Patrick’s 2021 appointments from the 2019 session.

Two of the three physician-senators – Sen. Dawn Buckingham, MD (R-Lakeway) and Sen. Donna Campbell, MD (R-New Braunfels) – will serve on the Committee on Health & Human Services, the panel medicine watches most closely.  

Sen. Charles Schwertner, MD (R-Georgetown) will chair the Committee on Administration, which during the 2019 session oversaw local issues and Senate business, among other duties. He’ll also sit on the Committee on Finance, the Committee on State Affairs, the Committee on Business & Commerce, and the Committee on Education.

All told, Texas’ three physician-lawmakers will hold 16 committee spots, with each serving in one chair role.

Senator Buckingham will serve as chair of the Committee on Nominations. Her other assignments include spots on the Special Committee on Redistricting, the Committee on Administration, and the Committee on Finance.

Senator Campbell will helm the Committee on Veterans Affairs & Border Security, and also serve on Redistricting, Finance, Business & Commerce, and State Affairs.

The Committee on Health & Human Services will be chaired by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) with Vice Chair Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). Along with Senators Buckingham and Campbell, others on the committee will include Sen. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso), Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston), Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson), and Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo).

Both the House and the Senate stand adjourned this week and are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Easy Ways to Get Involved in TMA Advocacy 

The kickoff of the 2021 legislative session last week brings new opportunities to get involved in TMA’s grassroots advocacy efforts at the Capitol.

Your participation is a vital component of our legislative success. Please help strengthen the voice of medicine by joining our advocacy efforts.

Stay up to date on TMA’s progress in the legislature. And take advantage of other opportunities to get involved with our advocacy efforts.

Legislative Hotline Jan. 15: House Adopts Mask Protocol for New Session, Announces Electronic Comment Portal

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UNDER THE ROTUNDA 

The Texas Legislature finished its last business Thursday before a long early vacation, after the House of Representatives adopted rules for the 2021 session, including a mask requirement on the House floor and the option to electronically submit comments.

Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), one of the authors of the House rules, explained on the floor that the public would have access to a new portal system to submit testimony, if they can’t or don’t want to travel to Austin to testify in person.

“Under the new rules, the public may attend in person. They will have to follow the mask requirements and the health protocol. Two, they may attend through the portal. They also may be attending by invited virtual [testimony],” Representative Hunter said. “We’re doing a pretty good job, and it doesn’t prevent House administration or our offices to work on even a better way.”

Lawmakers may remove their masks when speaking at either the front or back microphones. Committee members can participate in hearings virtually, but must be in the committee room for votes.

So far, the rules contain no provisions requiring COVID-19 testing before entering the House, Representative Hunter explained. He noted that all visitors will have the option to get tested at no expense, and lawmakers will be provided tests so they can require a test from anyone who comes into their office, if they choose.

He said medical experts have determined that “no single health protocol, taken alone” will protect the Capitol from the virus. Tests were “a screen shot in time,” Representative Hunter said, and he noted masks, social distancing, and air purifiers in Capitol offices as other ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“These rules don’t contemplate testing because until testing is available in our courthouses and for teachers and administrators in our school houses, we cannot mandate it in the Texas House,” Representative Hunter said. “That is the people’s House. And for us … to prioritize our own health and safety above others would be wrong.”

Senate Committees Announced: The Texas Senate on Friday released its list of committee assignments, with two of the chamber's three physician-legislators – Sen. Dawn Buckingham, MD (R-Lakeway), and Sen. Donna Campbell, MD (R-New Braunfels) – securing spots on the Committee on Health & Human Services. On the panel, to be chaired by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and vice-chaired by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Drs. Buckingham and Campbell will serve alongside Sen. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso); Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood); Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston); Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson); and Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo).

Look for further analysis of this session’s committee assignments, and what they mean for medicine, in next week’s Hotline.

The House and Senate are adjourned until Jan. 26.

BECOME AN ADVOCATE 

There are a number of ways you can get involved with the Texas Medical Association’s advocacy during this session. Visit TMA’s Grassroots Action Center to find out how to become a grassroots advocate for medicine. You also can be part of TMA’s monthly “white coat takeover” – virtually this year – as a participant in First Tuesday’s at the Capitol. For complete information on TMA’s advocacy tools and resources, visit the TMA Texas Legislature page.

Legislative Hotline Jan. 14: Senate Reduces Votes Needed to Debate Bills

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UNDER THE ROTUNDA 

A decrease in the Republican majority in the Senate this session prompted an inevitable discussion Wednesday about the procedure for bringing bills to the floor for debate.

Since 2015, bringing a bill up for discussion required approval from at least 19 senators, or three-fifths of the 31-seat chamber. Yesterday, Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) introduced Senate Resolution 2 to reduce the threshold for a supermajority to 18 votes – the number of seats now held by Republicans.

Despite protests from Democrats that this would disenfranchise them from participating in any discussion about which bills to consider, senators approved the change on a party-line vote.

At press time, the House of Representatives still was discussing its rules for session. After the House adjourns today, both chambers will be adjourned until Jan. 26.

Legislative Hotline Jan. 13: House Speaker Chosen as Session Gets Under Way

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Rapid testing tents were set up on the north side of the Texas Capitol on Tuesday morning as the 87th Legislature commenced.

UNDER THE ROTUNDA 

The Texas Legislature on Tuesday gaveled in what’s sure to be one of the most unique sessions in its history, with both the House and the Senate making quick work of their first day before adjourning.

In fact, this will be a quick week for lawmakers, followed by a nearly two-week recess. In what may be one sign of how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the next four-plus months at the Capitol, both chambers will continue their work today and Thursday, then adjourn until Jan. 26.

A number of the factors that shape each session – such as committee assignments for lawmakers – won’t be determined until after each chamber reconvenes in late January. However, the legislature is squaring away some of its most basic structural business before it quits for the week.

Phelan Chosen as Speaker: The most significant piece of business from Monday’s mostly ceremonial activity was the election of a House speaker. As expected, the lower chamber chose Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont). He was nominated by Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe), who in part cited his colleague’s “selfless actions” coordinating relief during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“He has been asked to step up and lead this body to probably what will be the toughest session any of us have ever experienced,” Representative Metcalf said on the House floor.

Representative Phelan was elected by a 143-2 vote, with four House members abstaining. When he addressed fellow lawmakers for the first time as speaker, he stressed the importance of focusing on education and the detriments to it caused by the pandemic, as well as getting Texans back to work by protecting citizens’ health and safety and revitalizing the economy through reduced regulatory burden.

Rules, or “What Will This Look Like?”: With the pandemic inevitably creating restrictions on the legislature’s normal course of business, both chambers are planning to debate and finalize their rules for this session in the coming days. The Senate plans to finalize its rules today, the House on Thursday.

Most important: how each chamber will conduct its committee hearings and in what manner they may be split between in-person testimony and remote appearances.

Budget Outlook Improves

The only thing the legislature is required by law to do each session is pass a two-year budget. Coming just ahead of Tuesday’s session kickoff was a state revenue budget estimate that looks a little better than the last one Comptroller Glenn Hegar issued.

On Monday, the comptroller’s office released its projection that the state has $112.5 billion available for the 2022-23 budget. It’s a decrease of 0.4% from the state budget currently in effect, but it’s a couple billion more than Comptroller Hegar estimated in July 2020. The comptroller’s office says the decline from the current budget is a direct result of the pandemic. The comptroller also is evaluating whether leftover federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act can help fill state budget shortfalls such as in the Medicaid program.

The state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the rainy day fund, will have a projected balance of $11.6 billion by the end of fiscal year 2023, also an increase. And the projected deficit fell from about $4.6 billion in the last estimate to about $1 billion in the new projection.