Legislative Update, May 9
- State Trauma Program Funding Bill Moves Forward
- House Tackles Property Tax Reform
- Bexar County House Freshman Ray Lopez Files Bills Protecting Vulnerable Youths
- Adequate Physical Activity Key to Future of National Security
Every four minutes someone in Texas is faced with an unexpected traumatic injury – annually resulting in over 130,000 trauma hospitalizations and costing designated trauma centers nearly $300 million in unreimbursed trauma care services. To help offset the unreimbursed costs and sustain the state’s trauma care system, the Texas Legislature created the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) in 2003. Over the course of the 16-year program, however, the DRP has received growing opposition for its impact on low-income drivers and families. On May 1, Representative John Zerwas (R-Fulshear) laid out House Bill 2048 for consideration on the House floor, which repeals the DRP and proposes a new funding source for the state’s entire trauma care system.
The current DRP levies fines and surcharges over a three-year period for reckless driving and moving violations such as DWIs ($1,000 a year), driving without an insurance or valid ID ($250 a year) and driving with an expired license ($100 a year). When Texans are unable to pay the DRP fines, their driver’s licenses are revoked, resulting in more than 1.4 million drivers losing their licenses since the inception of the program. HB 2048 proposes reinstating revoked driver’s licenses due to unpaid fines, repealing the program, and replacing the funding using three different mechanisms: increasing state traffic fines from $30 to $50, imposing a $4 fee on auto insurance policies, and raising the fees for DWI to $3,000, $4,500, and $6,000 for subsequent convictions, respectively. The bill was amended on the House floor, including the addition of a provision that increases the amounts allocated to Emergency Medical Services and the Regional Advisory Councils by 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
House Bill 2048 received broad support from health care stakeholders, including the Texas Hospital Association, Texas Sheriff’s Association, HCA Healthcare, CHRISTUS Healthcare, University Health System, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and the San Antonio Police Department. HB 2048 was voted out by the House on a vote of 143-0 and sent to the Senate where it awaits to be referred to committee. Methodist Healthcare Ministries supports the passage of HB 2048 and its efforts to develop a sustainable and equitable funding stream for the state’s trauma care system.
Property tax and education reform bills have been the top policy issues of the 2019 legislative session. Legislators have routinely heard from constituents who have voiced concerns with rising property taxes, and confusing tax systems. On April 30, the Texas House debated Senate Bill 2, sponsored in the House by Representative Dustin Burrow (R-Lubbock), who stressed to House members that the intent of SB 2 is to make the tax process more transparent, though the bill does not aim to lower property tax rates.
The House approved Senate Bill 2 by a vote of 107-40, with 20 members of the Democratic party voting in favor of the bill. As passed, the bill requires cities, counties and emergency service districts to hold an election to raise property tax revenue above 3.5 percent from the previous year, matching the version passed by the Senate last week. Both versions also allow taxing units to include indigent health care costs into their revenue growth calculations, although with slightly different mechanisms. Efforts to add amendments that would exclude flood risk mitigation, public safety expenses and economic development expenditures from the revenue growth calculations were voted down.
State leadership applauded the bill’s passage, despite strong opposition from cities and counties. Local government officials fear the unintended consequences of the reform will restrict both short term and long term growth needs without providing meaningful tax relief for its residents. Senate Bill 2 has moved to conference committee where conferees will negotiate final terms.
Newly sworn-in House member, Representative Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio), was given the opportunity to debate his bill, House Bill 4753, last week in the House Committee on International Relations and Economic Development. The bill calls for a study to examine the growing cost of child care affecting hard-working families throughout the state. Lopez, a former member of the San Antonio City Council, won a special election runoff to replace former state Representative Justin Rodriguez, who gave up his seat to accept an appointment as Bexar County Commissioner.
Lopez shared with committee members that some families are forced to spend up to 30 percent of their annual income on child care, much higher than the 7 percent level recommended by financial analysts. The disparity, disproportionately affecting single-family households with low incomes, recognizes that children of parents with limited incomes consequently lack access to child care resources. Representative Lopez stressed that investing in child care was the first step toward ensuring a child’s success and healthy development. HB 4753 was left pending in committee, where it will likely remain due to legislative session deadlines.
Representative Lopez also introduced House Bill 4757 which looks to improve access to healthcare coverage for youths in foster care. Under current law, youths aging out of foster care have access to state healthcare coverage until the age of 26, however many lose their coverage after they age out due to the difficult renewal processes and application forms that must be submitted annually. HB 4757 would streamline the redetermination process and create an auto-renewal process for youths after leaving state conservatorship to prevent any disruption in services, treatment or medication. Methodist Healthcare Ministries supports Representative Lopez’s initiative to protect the underserved and ensure access to healthcare coverage for all vulnerable populations.
Nearly 33 percent of youths in Texas are too overweight to serve in the military, and obesity is one of the leading reasons why 73 percent of young adults in Texas are ineligible to serve in the military. On May 1, Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ advocacy partners, Mission: Readiness and the Partnership for a Healthy Texas, held a press conference highlighting the importance of increasing physical activity in schools to curb the obesity epidemic. Senator Campbell (R-San Antonio) and Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) noted in their comments that this was a national security concern and both supported the implementation of obesity prevention strategies, such as the passage of Senate Bill 364 to ensure recess policies are adopted in all schools.
Dr. Deanna Hoelscher, Regional Dean of the UTHealth School of Public Health at Austin, explained that childhood obesity is estimated to cost an additional $12,900 in medical care per overweight child, placing a significant burden on the healthcare system. Retired U.S. Army Major General Rick Noriega added that engaging in meaningful recess and physical activity in schools would ensure Texas develops a healthy workforce and strong military. With the obesity rate of fourth-grade students in Texas currently 44 percent higher than the national average, the time to act is now.
Methodist Healthcare Ministries remains a staunch advocate in preventing childhood obesity. It supports an upstream approach which includes supporting the Partnership for a Healthy Texas’ Senate Bill 1834, which creates a pilot program to incentivize the purchasing of healthy foods for individuals using SNAP benefits and Senate Bill 952, which creates standards for nutrition, physical activity and screen time in licensed child care facilities. Both bills have passed the Senate and are waiting to be heard in the House Committee on Human Services.
For more information on health care research, policy or advocacy, please contact Chris Yanas at email@example.com.