Sine Die: Senator Nelson's End-Of-Session Report

May 27, 2013

The 83rd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature has adjourned sine die after fulfilling its constitutional duties to pass a state budget and consider changes to state law. The 140-day session, which began on January 8, 2013, included extensive debate on education, transportation, tax relief, health and human services and a wide range of other issues.

"We worked very hard this session to make sure Texas continues to lead the way in economic recovery -- and to ensure that our grandchildren grow up in a state where they have the best possible opportunity to succeed," Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said.  "I accomplished most of my goals.  Aside from a few pieces of unfinished business, I am proud of the overall results we achieved for the citizens of this state."

In her first session as the highest ranking member of the majority party, Senator Nelson introduced 57 proposals -- 81 percent of which passed the Legislature. She served on 19 conference committees, including for SB 1, the appropriations bill, which was approved last night.  The state's biennial budget will remain well under the constitutional spending limit with more than $500 million left in the treasury over the next two years, along with an estimated $8 billion maintained in the economic stabilization fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund.

"We passed a fiscally responsible budget that bolsters education, meets our growing infrastructure needs and ensures that Texas continues to maintain the nation's best climate for business," said Senator Nelson, who served as the lead Senate negotiator on the health and human services budget. "We made efficient use of our health and human services dollars, prioritizing preventive health services for women, mental health and programs to assist abused and neglected children." 

Following is a report on Senator Nelson's legislation for the 83rd Regular Session and its final status:

Long-Term Care: SB 7 redesigns the Medicaid long-term care system by establishing a long-term plan for ensuring that seniors and individuals with disabilities receive services in a coordinated manner through managed care. It also sets up advisory committees at the Health and Human Services Commission to aid in the transition. "SB 7 will ensure that we are providing the best possible services to not only those who currently receive them, but also 12,000 Texans who are currently receiving no services at all. Seniors and Texans with disabilities are living longer, more productive lives than ever before, and we need this bill to ensure we will be able to provide these services long into the future." Status: Sent to Governor.

Medicaid Fraud: SB 8 enhances the state's ability to detect and prevent Medicaid fraud, waste and abuse by establishing a unit at the Health and Human Services Commission to identify anomalies and red flags, as well as confirming the Office of Inspector General's authority to investigate fraud and strengthening policies against fraudulent practices. "Medicaid fraud robs us of resources we desperately need to help those who truly need them. SB 8 will help to ensure that every dollar we spend for Medicaid is going to honest providers who provide proper services. It will also help us crack down on those who are defrauding the system and taking advantage of our Medicaid population. Texas cannot afford to let even one cent go towards fraud, waste and abuse." Status: Sent to Governor.

TANF Reform: SB 11 institutes a drug screening and testing process for adult Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program applicants, while ensuring that children's benefits are not affected. "Drug abuse destroys families, harms children and prevents individuals from living healthy, independent lives. Because TANF is a direct cash assistance program, we have a responsibility to ensure that these funds are not being used to support a person’s drug habit. More importantly, we should have policies that are discouraging drug abuse rather than enabling it." Status: Left Pending on House General State Calendar 5/21.

Mental Health Reform: SB 58 increases efficiency and improves outcomes for mental health care in Texas by placing mental health services into a managed care setting and integrating behavioral and physical health. "SB 58 ensures that mental health services in Medicaid are provided in a coordinated manner, which will reduce costs and increase the quality of care. Improving these mental health services will also reduce the fiscal strain on our state and local governments, particularly within our prison system and emergency rooms. The Legislature has made mental health care a top priority this session, and this bill will have a real impact in improving mental health services in Texas." Status: Sent to Governor.

Obsolete Reports: SB 59 eliminates or modifies approximately 100 obsolete or redundant reports identified by the Legislative Budget Board and other state agencies. "SB 59 increases government efficiency and eliminates waste. One of my top priorities this session was to make sure every tax dollar is spent appropriately and usefully, and this bill helps to accomplish that goal." Status: Sent to Governor.

Child Credit Protection: SB 60 better protects children from identity theft by allowing parents to place a freeze on their child's credit history. "By allowing parents to place a 'Do Not Enter' sign on their child's credit record, this legislation will help protect young Texans from identity theft. This crime can have a devastating effect on an individual's personal finances, and we should ensure that our young people can begin their adult lives with a clean financial slate." Status: Signed by the Governor. 

Military Physicians: SB 61 allows the Texas Medical Board to issue a "volunteer medical license" for current and retired military physicians who would like to volunteer their time and services at charitable clinics in Texas. "This legislation will make it possible for the physicians who have served our country in the military to provide charitable care in Texas. I am proud to have authored this legislation that will eliminate an obstacle for retired military doctors who want to volunteer their skills and expertise to help the uninsured." Status: Signed by the Governor.

Promoting Student Health: SB 65 recognizes schools that excel in promoting student health. "Far too many of our students are overweight or obese -- putting them at risk for chronic illnesses that can shorten their lives. Senate Bill 65 will allow us to identify and reward those schools who are going above and beyond to encourage students to take personal responsibility over their own health." Status: Heard in House Public Education Committee 5/17. No Action Taken.

Stem Cell Reporting: SB 67 expands current data collection from universities in Texas regarding stem cell research. "The goal of this legislation is to ensure we have an accurate understanding of the type of stem cell research being conducted at our universities and how that research is being funded." Status: Sent to Governor.

Cremation Waiver: SB 68 authorizes physicians to waive the 48-hour waiting period for cremation to assist grieving families who wish to cremate loved ones within 48 hours. "This bill, which was brought to me by a group of constituents, protects religious freedoms and eliminates unnecessary red tape for grieving families who wish to mourn in accordance with their beliefs." Status: Left Pending on House General State Calendar 5/21.

Mental Health Outcomes: SB 126 requires the Department of State Health Services to create a public reporting system to allow the public to view and compare performance and outcome measures among community mental health and substance abuse providers. "We invest a significant amount of taxpayer dollars in our community mental health and substance abuse programs, and it is imperative that the public can see how these resources are used and what outcomes are resulting from our investment." Status: Sent to Governor.

Protective Order Filing: SB 129 allows domestic violence victims to file protective orders in the county where the offense occurred. "By giving domestic violence victims another avenue to ensure their safety, this legislation will help make our protective orders more effective and save lives." Status: Sent to Governor.

Domestic Violence Victim Representation: SB 130 permits a prosecutor to represent a victim of domestic violence and file protective orders without conflict when the prosecutor has or is currently representing the Department of Family and Protective Services in a matter involving the victim. "I am proud that we have eliminated this unnecessary burden for victims of domestic violence. This bill will make it easier to obtain the protective orders they need to keep them safe." Status: Sent to Governor.

Minimum Grade Policy: SB 132 clarifies that Texas school districts may not require teachers to artificially inflate a student's grade, including report card grades or other cumulative averages of a student's individual grades. "As a former teacher, it is important to me that all students are graded based on merit alone and that we support our teachers giving students the grades they earn." Status: Left Pending in House Public Education Committee.

Physician Workforce: SB 143 grows the physician workforce and encourages greater participation in state-operated health programs by establishing programs to create new residency slots and incentivizing physicians to serve Texas' Medicaid and Texas Women's Health Program patients. "The critical shortages we face in our health care work force are not going away. As our population continues to grow, we have to graduate and train more health care professionals in order to meet the health care needs of our citizens. This bill will improve access to qualified physicians for patients in our government-sponsored programs – and for all Texans." Status: Amended to HB 2550. Sent to Governor.

CPRIT Governance: SB 149 addresses breakdowns at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and ensures that the institute operates in a fair, transparent manner, incorporating several recommendations from a recent report from the State Auditor's Office. "SB 149 ensures the institute will operate with the upmost accountability and transparency. More importantly, it will allow us to resume our historic effort to fight cancer. The transgressions that have occurred at CPRIT are inexcusable and will never be tolerated again. Setting up this institute is one of the most important things the Legislature has ever done, and I am looking forward to its bright future." Status: Sent to Governor.

CPRIT Debt Service: SB 150 allows CPRIT to use royalties, license fees, investment interest, gifts and grants collected by CPRIT to pay for debt service on CPRIT bonds. "As our investment begins to yield royalties and other proceeds, we should make sure that this revenue is used to offset costs and eventually put CPRIT on a path toward self-sustainability." Status: Amended to SB 149.

State Hospital Patient Safety: SB 152 expands protections for patients at state hospitals by increasing oversight, enhancing employee training and strengthening abuse and neglect reporting requirements. "After hearing of preventable tragedies at state hospitals during the interim, the Legislature has responded quickly to solve these issues. Individuals in our state hospitals are one of the most vulnerable populations we serve, and we must ensure they are treated with the highest level of care." Status: Sent to Governor.

Patient Safety: SB 153 increases the maximum administrative penalty the Department of State Health Services may assess against hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers and end stage renal disease facilities from $1,000 per violation, per day to $25,000 to ensure they are consistent with penalties for other DSHS-regulated facilities and that they are significant enough to discourage non-compliance. "Ensuring that penalties are significant enough to deter bad behavior is critical for patient safety and health care quality." Status: Voted Down in House Public Health Committee 5/16.

Denton County Court: SB 290 creates a new general jurisdiction court for Denton County intended to help manage rising caseload growth. "This new court will help alleviate backlogs and ensure that Denton County citizens have efficient access to our courts, and I will be working to help this legislation along in the Senate." Status: Amended to HB 3153. Sent to Governor.

Gas Utility Notification: SB 291 protects property owners by requiring gas utilities to notify residents in writing five days before accessing its right-of-way on residents' property. "During the interim, dozens of Denton County residents learned a local gas provider intended to clear a 50-foot easement over a 12 mile stretch of right of way, including trees on private property. I was told that residents were only notified of the project as a courtesy. This legislation puts into law a requirement that residents be notified in advance of entry to their property." Status: Heard in House Energy Resources Committee 5/8. Left Pending.

Health Care Collaboration: SB 406 improves access to health care by making it easier for physicians, advanced practice nurses, and physician assistants to work together to deliver services and gives doctors more authority to delegate their authority. "This bill allows highly trained medical professionals to practice to the top of their training, increasing patient access to qualified health care providers at a time when we are working to address critical shortages in our medical workforce." Status: Sent to Governor.

Child Protective Services: Senator Nelson's legislative package to better protect children in foster care and help families through the Child Protective Services (CPS) system has been successful this session. SB 423 creating an alternative response system for low-risk cases has been sent to the Governor for his signature, as well as the companion bill to SB 424 ensuring the use of psychotropic medications by foster children is appropriate, necessary and monitored. Bills to increase community collaboration in child placement decisions and strengthen prevention programs like home-visits and mentoring have also been sent to the Governor. "This session I made it a priority to ensure our programs are creating good outcomes for our children in state care. These pieces of legislation will help to find our foster care children permanent, supportive homes, as well as keep families together where possible."

Continuous Violation of a Protective Order: SB 743 creates a 3rd degree felony for offenders who violate a protective order two or more times within a 12-month period while the first violation is still pending in court. "Repeated violations of a protective order indicate a heightened risk of danger. By giving our prosecutors another tool to deter individuals who commit these crimes, we can better protect victims of abuse." Status: Signed by Governor.

Psychiatric Patient Protection: SB 944 requires that all non-licensed employees working in mental health units of hospitals undergo a criminal background check and bars individuals who have committed violent crimes from employment. "Texans who enter psychiatric units in hospitals are in an extremely vulnerable state, and this bill will further ensure we live up to our responsibility to keep them safe. We must protect our patients from those with a history of violence or abuse." Status: Sent to Governor.

Hospital Name Badges: SB 945 requires all hospital health care providers to wear badges with photo identification that clearly state their names, their departments and their job titles to better help patients identify their caregivers, as well as their level of training. "This legislation will help ensure Texans know the expertise of their health care provider. Often patients enter our hospitals in very vulnerable states, and they deserve clear information about who is caring for them." Status: Signed by Governor.

Domestic Violence Victim Safety: SB 946 allows victims of stalking and other domestic violence crimes to terminate their lease agreements under certain circumstances. "By making it easier for victims to choose their safety over the financial impact of breaking a lease, this bill will keep domestic violence victims safe and allow them to feel comfortable in their own homes." Status: Sent to Governor.

Affirming Property Rights: SB 947 affirms that adverse possession claims are not a defense against charges of burglary and empowers district attorneys to prosecute these claims. "I filed this legislation in response to reports of individuals in North Texas 'squatting' in foreclosed or abandoned homes and then trying to take ownership through claims of adverse possession - a practice that should not be tolerated. This bill will give prosecutors the tools they need to confront these individuals." Status: Left Pending on House General State Calendar 5/21.

DCTA: SB 948 increases representation on the Denton County Transportation Authority board of directors, clarifies contracting issues, and authorizes the Denton County Transportation Authority to join a Local Government Corporation. "I am thankful that this bill moved swiftly through the House and is now on the Governor's desk. This is an important piece of legislation for Denton County that will help improve public transportation and give DCTA the tools it needs to better serve our rapidly-growing community." Status: Sent to Governor.

Water Safety Month: SCR 1 designates the month of April as Water Safety Month to create water safety awareness and prevent water-related injuries and deaths. "Raising awareness about water safety is an essential part of the effort to protect Texans. Designating April as Water Safety Month will help ensure Texas families can safely enjoy our state's water ways." Status: Passed House.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: All quotes in the capsules above are attributable to Senator Nelson.