By Ed Sterling
Ed Sterling is the director of member services for the Texas Press Association.
AUSTIN — The 85th Texas Legislature convened at the Capitol on July 18 for its first called session, the main purpose being for lawmakers to extend the life of certain state agencies scheduled for termination, and then to proceed to other matters.
At the urging of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate moved quickly to pass legislation continuing the function of the Texas Medical Board and several other health-care related state oversight boards through 2019. The House, led by Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, tentatively passed similar legislation (House Bill 1) through its State Affairs committee, but 10 amendments to the bill have been pre-filed, and those, plus the main bill, will be subject to a full-House floor debate scheduled for July 24. The 150-member House and 31-member Senate must agree on any legislation before it can be forwarded to the governor’s desk for his consideration.
Patrick and the Senate appeared to be in more of a rush than Speaker Joe Straus and the House to get the Medical Board bill to the governor and then use the rest of the 30-day session to tackle the host of other items on the governor’s legislative wish list.
Various Senate committees met in Friday and weekend hearings and did the following:
– Finance, chaired by Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, approved SB 9, relating to the constitutional limit on the rate of growth of appropriations, and SB 19, relating to bonuses and salaries for public school classroom teachers and state assistance for the Texas Public School Employees Group Insurance Program;
– Business & Commerce, chaired by Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, approved SB 8, relating to health plan and health benefit plan coverage for elective abortion;
– Government Reform, chaired by Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, approved SB 1, relating to ad valorem tax reform;
– Education, chaired by Larry Taylor, R-Galveston, approved SB 2, relating to public school finance, including the establishment of a tax credit scholarship and educational expense assistance program, and SB 16, relating to the creation of a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system;
– Health and Human Services, chaired by Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, approved SB 17, relating to maternal health and safety, pregnancy-related deaths, and maternal morbidity, including postpartum depression, and SB 11, relating to general procedures and requirements for do-not-resuscitate orders; and
– State Affairs, chaired by Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, approved SB 3, relating to the regulation of certain facilities and activities of political subdivisions, including public school districts, and open-enrollment charter schools.
Abbott expresses thanks
Gov. Greg Abbott on July 17 announced Texas would receive funding from the federal government in support of Operation Secure Texas, a militarized effort launched in 2014 “to secure Texas’ border with Mexico,” he said.
Texas National Guard personnel currently serving in the operation will transition to federal orders beginning in late July.
“The taxpayers of Texas have funded border security, a federal responsibility, for far too long. I am grateful that the federal government and Congressional appropriators are stepping up and dedicating additional resources to provide for the safety and security of all Texans,” Abbott added.
Paxton to appeal ruling
Attorney General Ken Paxton on July 19 announced his intention to appeal a federal judge’s ruling siding with a group of Texas inmates who sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice over summer heat conditions at the Wallace Pack Unit northwest of Houston.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison granted a preliminary injunction that orders the TDCJ to lower the temperatures in the Pack Unit’s housing areas where heat-sensitive inmates reside to a heat index of no more than 88 degrees or transfer them to other facilities, and take other actions.
Paxton said “Texas taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars to pay for expensive prison air conditioning systems, which are unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated.”
Job growth continues
The Texas economy expanded in June for the 12th consecutive month with the addition of 40,200 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs, the Texas Workforce Commission announced July 21.
Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent, down from 4.8 percent in May. The state’s annual employment growth outperformed the previous two years, with 319,300 jobs added over the year, bringing the state’s annual growth rate up by 0.4 percentage points to 2.7 percent.
Education and Health Services recorded the largest private-industry gain over the month with 13,100 jobs added.
DSHS: Cyclospora on rise
The Texas Department of State Health Services on July 17 announced a spike in intestinal illnesses caused by the parasite Cyclospora.
With 68 cases having been reported in the last month in Texas, DSHS is asking health care providers to be watch for the illness, pursue testing and report cases to local health departments.
Texas has had multiple outbreaks linked to cilantro, DSHS said, and outbreaks also have been associated with the consumption of imported fresh produce, such as fresh pre-packaged salad mix, raspberries, basil and snow peas.
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