UNDER THE ROTUNDA
The 85th Texas Legislature convened on Tuesday.
Watch this TMA Legislative News Hotline video featuring Darren Whitehurst, TMA’s vice president of advocacy, laying out some top legislative priorities and key challenges for this session.
The Texas House of Representatives unanimously reelected Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to his record-tying fifth term as House speaker, on a record vote of 150-0.
The Texas Senate selected Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) as its president pro-tem. The position puts him third in line as acting governor if both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are out of the state.
Twenty-one Texas House members are first-time members. One is TMA member Rep. Tom Oliverson, MD (R-Houston), who joins these returning TMA members in the House: John Zerwas, MD (R-Simonton); Greg Bonnen, MD (R-Friendswood); and J.D. Sheffield, DO (R-Gatesville). Republicans hold a roughly two-to-one majority in the House.
Among the three freshman members joining the Senate this session is TMA physician member Sen. Dawn Buckingham, MD (R-Lakeway), who accompanies fellow TMA members Sens. Charles Schwertner, MD (R-Georgetown), and Donna Campbell, MD (R-New Braunfels).
All legislators are settled into their offices in the Capitol or Capitol Extension. Find your lawmakers’ offices on this list.
Senate Rules: The Texas Senate approved rules Wednesday guiding its procedures. As with last session, the Senate adopted a three-fifths rule, meaning 19 votes are needed to bring a bill up for debate in the Senate (with the requisite lieutenant governor’s recognition). Republicans continue to hold a 20-11 majority in the upper chamber.
House Rules: The Texas House adopted its parliamentary rules as well, House Resolution 3, considering many amendments before doing so. One that drew much attention and debate would have required people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex — an amendment that was challenged and ultimately withdrawn. Representatives did adopt an amendment by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) to establish a breastfeeding/pumping space near the House Chamber for use by House members and staff, and credentialed media. In total, 28 amendments were filed, but the majority of them were withdrawn or tabled.
Both houses adjourned until Tuesday, which is common early in the session.
Lawmakers already are busy filing bills. So far, senators and representatives have filed close to 1,600 bills. House members filed 1,105 of these, while Senate members filed 480. Lawmakers typically file thousands of bills; 5,000-7,500 total is not uncommon. Last session, about 20 percent of the bills filed became law, so most of the bills will die.
Need a refresher on how bills become laws in Texas? Check out this guide, furnished last session by the Texas Legislative Council.
The most important bill is the state’s budget measure, which is the only “must-do” task on lawmakers’ list. According to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s report this week, they’ll have to do more with less. He reported legislators will have $104.87 billion in state general revenue funds to work with in crafting the next two-year budget, a 2.7-percent decrease from his estimate ahead of last session. TMA advocacy experts say that falls $4.13 billion below the ideal amount of $109 billion for lawmakers to spread across state priorities. So expect much discussion about where to trim the budget; Lt. Gov. Patrick noted this week that the state’s two biggest expenditure areas, health care and education, will be target areas for cuts.
TMA’s 2017 legislative agenda includes priorities to help advance patient care in Texas. Tops on the list are the state budget, insurance reform, scope of practice, telemedicine, the Texas Medical Board, and public health priorities. For more details, see “Building on Success” in the January issue of Texas Medicine magazine. TMA member-physicians, medical students, and TMA Alliance members play a significant role in advancing medicine’s priorities at the Capitol. Here are some ways you can help:
- Register for First Tuesdays at the Capitol, the first of which takes place in Austin on Tuesday, Feb. 7;
- Testify before a House or Senate committee;
- Learn more about TEXPAC; and
- Subscribe to TMA Legislative News Hotline daily or weekly summary email with video (which you’re reading right now), or both. Here’s how: Just log in to your member profile on texmed.org and visit the subscriptions page at texmed.org/profile/subscriptions. TMA Legislative News Hotline keeps you informed of the latest dealings throughout Texas’ 85th legislative session. Updates on the latest bill action affecting medicine will be sent to your inbox each day lawmakers convene at the Capitol. And TMA’s weekly edition of Hotline summarizes the week’s legislative activity, and includes TMA’s video recap.
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