As Gov. Greg Abbott promised last month, Democratic lawmakers’ decision to leave the state during this year’s special session of the Texas Legislature prompted the governor last week to call a second special session. It was scheduled to begin last Saturday.
Before the Democrats effectively halted the first special session, the Texas Medical Association planned to take a wait-and-see approach. For the second one – provided it returns to business as usual – the House of Medicine may have to take a more active role, TMA Vice President of Advocacy Dan Finch says.
The call for special session No. 2 features 17 topics, 11 of which are the same as Governor Abbott intended to be addressed in the first special session, such as bail reform, transgender youth sports participation, and legislation to “strengthen the integrity of elections.”
Among the six new items is one with a particular health care focus: legislation to allocate “unappropriated available resources for COVID-19-related health care expenses,” taking into account about $10.5 billion in funding to local governments from the American Rescue Plan Act. Examples of expenses the governor’s proclamation cites are:
- Health care staffing needs, including funding for physicians, nurses, and others;
- Establishing, staffing, and operating alternative care sites;
- Supporting the operations of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, state-supported living centers, and long-term care facilities;
- Vaccine administration;
- Testing sites;
- Supplies and equipment, such as personal protective equipment and ventilators; and
- Standing up and operating infusion centers.
Mr. Finch said it remains to be seen what opportunities medicine might have to influence the spending of that $10.5 billion in local government funding.
“I think we’ll have to wait and see how the state tends to consider those monies, and what it proposes to do about those monies,” he said.
But, Mr. Finch added, TMA may have to be more involved than it planned to be in the first special session.
“I suspect that we are going to have to be a little bit more active on some of these issues,” he said. “By the same token, there will be other issues that come up independent of this [call] that we will be engaged in. I suspect it will be more active this time around. The real wild card is, when do the Democrats finally come back?”
Meanwhile, TMA still has its sights set on yet another special session expected for October, when the legislature will figure out how to distribute about $16 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding.