Legislative Hotline: Bills Would Protect First Responders in Disasters
By Jennifer Perkins

 May_Runoff

UNDER THE ROTUNDA
When physicians and first responders rushed to the coast to help their fellow Texans deluged by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, their efforts at times were hampered by confusion surrounding their vaccination status.

Two bills working their way through the Texas House of Representatives, House Bill 1256 and House Bill 1418, both by Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), seek to clear up that confusion and protect first responders during disasters.

HB 1256 would allow first responders’ employers to access their immunization records in the Texas Immunization Registry, known as ImmTrac2, during a disaster. Currently, access to the registry is limited to the individual, and a busy first responder might not be able to check his or her immunization status in an emergency.

HB 1418 would ensure that first responders receive a push notification of their immunization status when their initial certification or annual recertification is complete.

Testifying before the House Public Health Committee on Wednesday, Beaumont anesthesiologist Ray Callas, MD, spoke in support of both bills. Harvey dumped almost three feet of rain in one day on Beaumont, making it one of the storm’s hardest-hit areas.

“We didn’t have time to plan or evacuate,” Dr. Callas told lawmakers. “We had to get started with what we had. Knowing their vaccination status could not only help first responders be better prepared and protected, but also may prevent potentially costly and unnecessary over-vaccination.”

Both bills passed unanimously out of House Public Health and will be set for debate on the House floor.

A related bill, Senate Bill 752 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), passed the Senate yesterday and was received in the House, where it awaits committee referral. SB 752 would provide liability protections for physicians who volunteer in the aftermath of disasters.

Also in yesterday’s House Public Health Committee, TMA submitted written testimony seeking refinements to House Bill 2191 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake.)

HB 2191 would tighten access to information that a physician might be compelled to produce under a public information request. In uncommon circumstances, the Texas Public Information Act currently could compel a physician to respond to a public information request by providing anything not protected by the patient-physician communications. That could mean the physician would have to disclose patient information. TMA says patients’ “protected health information” – which is broader and more all-encompassing than patient-physician communications – should be protected.

Also in the Public Health Committee, Belton anesthesiologist Tim Bittenbinder, MD, testified in support of House Bill 1532 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), which would protect employed physicians’ clinical autonomy and independent medical judgment from hospital administrators’ interference.

“Baylor Scott & White has a very good internal system to resolve issues,” Dr. Bittenbinder said, referring to the clinic where he practices. “But this may not necessarily be the case with other organizations. From a standpoint of fairness and transparency, this bill is a modest proposal to resolve those areas of friction that cannot be resolved locally.”

In the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, TMA submitted written testimony in support of House Bill 316 by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin). That bill would require the Department of Public Safety to develop and implement a public awareness campaign on firearm safety, prevention of firearm accidents involving children, and suicide prevention.

“The public health data tell us that children who are with an untrained or otherwise careless adult or a friend with access to a firearm are most likely to be injured or killed in an unintentional discharge,” TMA said.

These three bills were left pending in committee and will be voted on at a later time.

GETTING A BILL MOVING

So far this session, lawmakers filed 7,520 bills. TMA is monitoring 1,906 of them, although that will likely grow. Bills must be referred to committee before they can be heard on the floor and voted on by the full body. Then the process repeats in the other chamber. Bill referral will be complete this week. We have passed the halfway point; 67 days remain in this session. 

 BILLS OF NOTE

Here are some bills TMA is watching now. Keep an eye on your email inbox for Action Alerts as we work to pass or kill bills. 

  • Senate Bill 364 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) would direct the State Board of Education to develop recess policies that encourage outdoor playtime and physical activity. House Bill 455 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) is the companion. TMA supports these bills. 
  • Senate Bill 1238 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) would shorten the time-frame for a physician to evaluate a voluntary mental health patient admission from 72 to 24 hours. TMA is closely monitoring this bill. 
  • Senate Bill 982 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) would direct the Texas Division of Emergency Medicine to work with the Department of State Health Services to develop a plan to increase the capabilities of local emergency shelters to care for specialty care populations during a disaster. TMA supports this bill.   

HEALTHY VISION 2025

Healthy Vision 2025 – released in late January – is TMA’s all-inclusive, health care roadmap for legislators. 

Want to help spread and promote TMA’s Healthy Vision for Texas? Become a TMA social media ambassador.

TODAY’S GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY TIP

Motivation for contacting your legislator may stem from frustration about a particular issue, so take care to be diplomatic in communications with your legislators and/or their staff. Don’t begin your conversation by saying, “As a citizen and taxpayer …” Don’t be argumentative or abrasive. And don’t ignore your legislator, then contact a legislator from another district for help with your issue. Get more tips in our Grassroots Advocacy Guide.

PHYSICIAN OF THE DAY

Today’s physician of the day is Philip Pippin, MD, of Tyler. Dr. Pippin graduated from The University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine at Galveston, and is a member of both TMA and the Smith County Medical Society.

WHAT WE’RE READING

Will Physicians Soon Be Allowed to Dispense Drugs in Texas? – D CEO Healthcare

Dallas struggles with rise in STDs – The Dallas Morning News

Texas lawmakers are prioritizing mental health for school safety. But advocates worry about stigma. – The Texas Tribune

Massive statewide women’s health care coalition working closely with legislators – KSAT-TV

Lack of affordable housing hurting health of Texas children – Houston Chronicle

New Effort Enhances Access to Mental Health Treatment for Veterans – State of Reform

Amid measles outbreak, lawmaker seeks simpler way to opt out of vaccines – Austin American-Statesman

Last Updated On

March 22, 2019

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Jennifer Perkins

Advocacy Communication Manager

(512) 370-1469
Jennifer Perkins

Jennifer Perkins, a native Texan and University of Texas Longhorn, has worked in politics, public affairs, and advocacy for more than two decades, covering a litany of subject areas and a number of states, using a marketing-oriented communications style as informed by her MBA. Jennifer has two dogs, is a college football fanatic, loves to entertain, and prefers to be outdoors..

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