Seniority, knowledge, background and concerns of a Member’s district are among the multiple criteria the Speaker of the Texas House uses to determine a member’s committee assignments. This session I was assigned a higher number of committees than most legislators, serving on the Calendars Committee, the Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Article II (Health and Human Services) and chaired the Appropriations Subcommittee on Budget Transparency and Reform, the Public Health Committee, and the Committee on General Investigating and Ethics.
The Committee on Appropriations
The House Committee on Appropriations is responsible for drafting the biennial budget (House Bill 1) for the State of Texas. As one of 27 members of this committee, I served on the Article II Health and Human Services Subcommittee, Chaired the Subcommittee for Budget Transparency and Reform and was named a budget Conferee for the Conference Committee on the budget, which means a I negotiated funding for various health and human service priorities with the Senate. As chair of the Subcommittee for Budget Transparency and Reform, the committee's purview included hearing and reviewing all legislation, other than HB1 (the state budget), that was referred to the Appropriations Committee.
Several key bills that went before my subcommittee included House Bill 6, which relates to the creation and re-creation of funds and accounts, the dedication and rededication of revenue, and the exemption of unappropriated money from use for general governmental purposes. Each session since 1995, the Legislature has enacted a funds consolidation bill detailing which funds, accounts and dedications were exempt from being abolished. House Bill 6 is needed to implement the state’s budget and to continue the work of the Legislature in reducing the state’s reliance on general revenue dedicated account balances to certify the budget.
In an effort to increase transparency in the budget process, House Bill 7 seeks to address certain unspent dedicated revenue in the general revenue fund as counted toward overall budget certification. There is concern that these amounts have grown substantially over time and those funds should be reduced. An example of accounts that were consolidated were the Texas-B-On-Time Loan fund, which is no longer functional for higher education institutions in its previous form; the Trauma Fund, which was consolidated for greater access by the regional trauma facilities; and the repeal of additional licensing fees imposed annually on 16 different professions. House Bill 7 takes key steps toward reducing reliance on general revenue dedicated funds and increasing budget transparency.
The Committee on Public Health
The Public Health Committee has been charged with the protection of public health, including supervision and control of the practice of medicine and dentistry and other allied health services such as mental health program development. There were 234 bills referred to the Public Health Committee of which 143 had a public hearing. One-hundred and nineteen of those bills were reported favorably out of committee, of which 17 I authored, co-authored, or joint authored. This has been my third term of having the privilege of serving on this committee, which has given me ample opportunity to work towards continuing this committee’s mission. An important part of my legislative package was House Bill 2131. This bill requires the Health and Human Services Commission to establish a process to designate Centers of Excellence for Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy at one or more health care entities in Texas. Throughout the bill development process, I have worked collaboratively with hospitals and physicians, as well as Texas Medical Association, March of Dimes and other organizations to ensure the new designation process will meet the needs of patients and health care systems. This bill creates the Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy Council as a subcommittee of the Perinatal Advisory Council in order to align their efforts and expertise. Texas will have a surgical center where mothers can be appropriately counseled and where decisions can be made regarding on-going prenatal and postnatal care with a goal to minimize maternal risk while maximizing neonatal and long-term outcomes for the affected baby.
Another piece of legislation I authored was House Bill 2055, legislation to create a vital source of data for further educating medical professionals to ensure continued public health. Neglected and emerging tropical diseases pose a significant threat to public health. Symptoms of NTDs can be debilitating and have chronic and adverse impacts on childhood development, pregnancy outcomes and worker productivity. States with pockets of poverty and a warm tropical climate are vulnerable to the spread of neglected tropical diseases. House Bill 2055 creates a sentinel site system to monitor the incidence, prevalence and trends of emerging and neglected tropical diseases. Furthermore, House Bill 2055 requires the Department of State Health Services to make available educational and informational materials concerning emerging and neglected tropical diseases so that providers are better equipped to diagnose, report and treat these diseases. This bill will increase early detection and treatment through providing a source of valuable information to public health professionals.
The Committee on General Investigating and Ethics
The Committee on General Investigating and Ethics was created by Speaker Straus with the goal of increasing transparency within the political process including, the legislature and state agencies. The committee heard forty-two bills and twenty-one were voted favorably out of this committee. Among those twenty-one pieces of legislation, I authored seven ethics reform bills that originated from the Interim Select Committee to Study Ethics that I had the privilege of co-chairing with Senator Huffman. All seven that I authored passed successfully out of committee. In coming years, whether through public private partnerships or via state-issued bonds awarded to local entities, significant resources will be spent on a multitude of projects. Many decisions related to the procurement of services will be made – and influenced – at the local level. First and foremost, Chapter 176 of the Local Government Code – as it currently exists and as amended by House Bill 23 – is a disclosure statute; it is not a conflict-of-interest statute. The only behavior it regulates is the disclosure of certain relationships between vendors and public officials. House Bill 23 impacts the scope of those required disclosures in three substantive ways. It extends the disclosure requirements beyond elected officials and the chief executive, and would include employees who exercise discretion in the procurement process. It extends the types of relationships that must be disclosed to include both business and family relationships. Lastly, the bill requires the disclosure of entertainment, transportation and lodging expenses by vendors.