Our priorities at the Legislature
Committee hearings for first reading of bills will end next week, so bills that aren't on their way through the process by then are going to have to wait until 2023 for another chance. As expected, we've adjusted our strategy and expectations to put our resources behind the bills that have the best chances of passing. Here's where we are:
The State Budget & Appropriations
Current drafts of both the House and Senate budgets contain $0 for: raising the wages of the lowest paid community attendants from $8.11 per hour, decreasing the Medicaid waiver interest list by even 1% annually, or any Medicaid growth. ECI funding levels are "maintained."
This is disappointing, although not surprising. However, there are a couple rays of hope still in play. SB 2028 (Kolkhorst), a Medicaid Omnibus bill, would address many issues we've been working on for years, including:
- enabling hospitals to discharge a person to their homes with attendant care, rather than a nursing home,
- creating a portal on HHSC's website to allow people to check their Medicaid interest list status (that's means more transparency on the interest list),
- promoting Consumer Directed Services (CDS),
- a pilot for advancing care for children,
- a dental benefit for adults with disabilities.
Secondly, we are expecting additional funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, including match dollars for home and community-based services (this would be for one year only). So while it doesn't look like the state budget bills are going to come through for our priorities, we have some other avenues this session to support attendants, young children, and families, and promote independence of Texans with disabilities
Access to Care & Medicines
When people are able to access the care they need, when they need it, they stay healthier. Whether paying through a private insurer or public health system, having access to the right care also makes good fiscal sense. There has been a lot of movement in the last week on bills in this area:
- SB 1152 (Kolkhorst) and HB 3145 (Deshotel) would instate a preventative dental benefit for adults with disabilities in STAR+PLUS non-HCBS. Support and momentum around this issue has been growing steadily for the past several sessions. SB 2028 (Kolkhorst), which incorporates SB 1152, is being heard in Senate Health & Human Services today, and we're optimistic for its progression to the Senate floor.
- HB 1535 (Klick), the medical cannabis bill, passed unanimously out of the House Public Health committee last week and will be brought to the House floor soon. More on that from the Dallas Morning News.
- What is more worrisome is a pair of consumer protection bills that were heard in the House Insurance committee Tuesday: HB 2668 (Price) would protect consumers from Copay Accumulators, a new insurance practice that raises individuals' healthcare costs. HB 1646 (Lambert) would prevent non-medical switching (or drug switching), a set of tactics health insurers use to switch stable consumers off their already-prescribed medications for non-medical reasons. These bills are good for consumers, but are getting a lot of opposition from health insurance companies.
Children with disabilities
In addition to our work in public education and ECI, CTD will advocate for a number of measures to address shortfalls in support for young children and youth with disabilities and their families. These measures include:
- ACTION NEEDED HB 168 (M. Gonzalez), the Inclusive Childcare bill is STILL pending in committee, despite strong support. To help this bill on its way, check out item #1 on our Current Actions page.
- HB 785 (Allen), the BIP (behavior improvement plan) bill, passed the House and is now in the Senate. This bill would support teachers in identifying when a student may require additional services, recommend consideration of those services, and ensure effective and appropriate behavior supports are provided to students in a timely manner.
- HB 411 (Julie Johnson) has also passed over to the Senate and would will align terminology in Texas with that of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).
We're involved in several bills that ensure that school discipline policies do not target students with disabilities and/or mental health issues. Two priorities among these right now:
Both youth and adults with disabilities who enter the criminal justice system have a much higher chance of: arrest and conviction, longer sentencing, and institutional victimization than individuals without disabilities. Lack of services, stigma, and unique challenges create a perpetual cycle of involvement with the criminal justice system. Our biggest success so far: HB 686 (Moody), the Second Look bill, which adds parole review for people convicted as children, passed the House last week and now proceeds to the Senate.
Every session, there's a fight over voter rights, and boy, did 2021 bring it. CTD and our partners are working hard against SB 7 (Hughes), and last week, were able to make some changes to this damaging bill before it passed from the Senate to the House:
- the bill no longer has a provision requiring proof of disability for mail-in ballots. This was problematic for many reasons, including a lack of specifics in the bill on who would be collecting and reviewing those medical records and who would have access to them.
- language has been added that directs poll watchers to submit their videos to the Secretary of State's Office ONLY. In the original version of the bill, poll watchers were given permission to video record anyone they believed was violating the law. There was no provision in the bill for training for poll watchers, including on what assisting a voter with a disability might look like.
- the bill had required extensive documentation from anyone driving another person to curbside voting. Now, that documentation is required if you drive three or more people to curbside voting.
- SB 7 now includes a ballot tracker, so a voter can see when they can expect their mail-in ballot and when it has been received by the state.
Even with these changes, SB 7 is a bad bill, and we will continue to oppose it and its counterpart in the House, HB 6 (Cain). More on the problems with HB 6 for Texans with disabilities from KXAN.
On the good bills that still have a shot (there are a few!): we're still working on getting a hearing next week for HB 3874 (Bucy), on accessible ballots. SB 1018 (Zaffirini), which would allow voters to cure mail-in ballots with signature discrepancies, has passed the Senate and is headed to the House.