Today marks the 130th day of the 85th Texas Legislative Session. There are ten days left until sine die, the last day of the regular session. Governor Abbott has stated that he believes there is enough time left to pass meaningful reforms, but he also has the authority to call a special session if needed. In this edition of the Capitol Review, we are covering the following topics:
- Education Reform
- Overhaul of TRS-Care
- American Laws for American Courts
- Freedom to Serve Children Act
- Reporting Requirements for Abortion Providers
- Inappropriate Teacher-Student Relationships
- Preparing for Hurricane Season
It was an honor to give the commencement addresses for Alvin Community College last weekend! Pictured with me are ACC President Dr. Christal Albrecht and ACC Regent Mike Pyburn. Go Dolphins and congratulations to all the graduates!
I was proud to join members of the Texas House in passing several reforms to our K-12 education system. HB 515 would end the practice of re-testing students in 5th and 8th grade reading and math. Most of the STAAR tests that our schools administer are required by federal law, but not all of them are. The legislation would also require schools to wait until the end of the school year to administer tests. This is an important step toward reducing the emphasis that is put on testing in our schools.
HB 22 also passed the House to reduce the number of required STAAR tests and make key reforms to our testing program and schedule. This legislation would reform the A-F school rating system from a five-domain model with numbered indicators to a three-domain model with more (unnumbered) indicators to better signify the intent. The bill alleviates concerns about Domain IV as currently codified, and removes the summative “A-F” rating and the weights surrounding each domain to give parents a better understanding of how schools are performing. These and other changes were made so the ratings better reflect the unique population of each school and depends less on standardized test scores. Instead of getting a single A-F grade, a school and district would be graded in three specific areas: student achievement, student progress, and school climate, and this will create a more accurate picture of the performance of schools.
We also passed HB 23 to create a grant program to provide innovative, personalized, and educational public school environments to students with autism or other disabilities. These programs have flexibility to alter the length of the school day, adopt staff qualifications that differ from the current state laws, admit any student that wants to enroll (if approved by the commissioner), and coordinate with private providers. The program sets aside $20 million through the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to establish a maximum of 10 programs, with a cap of $1 million per program, and affect students ages 3-9 that attend a public school.
What a nice surprise to be given an honorary Associate’s Degree from Alvin Community College! Grateful to advocate for such a fine institution.
Overhaul of TRS-Care
As I have shared recently on Facebook, without legislative changes and additional funding to the TRS-Care program, the estimated $1.06 billion shortfall would be fully borne by our retired teachers. We took action to continue to provide meaningful coverage to our retired teachers through the passage of HB 3976. This legislation provides two options for retirees:
- First, a plan for Pre-65 retirees who are not Medicare eligible. Targeted premiums for these participants would gradually increase over the course of a four-year period, until 2021.
- Second, the bill provides a Medicare Advantage plan for Medicare eligible participants aged 65 and older at a consistent premium cost of $146. It is important to note that this bill would maintain the Medicare Part D Plan for prescription drug benefits. (plan is largely the same as the current plan)
HB 3976 also requires that no premium can be charged to disability retirees who (1) retired before January 1, 2017, (2) are currently receiving disability retirement benefits, and (3) are not eligible to enroll in Medicare. Furthermore, the bill allows retirees who are ineligible for the Medicare Advantage plan at the time they retire to re-enroll at the age of 65 with no penalty, and requires TRS to develop a policy to facilitate greater provider access in all areas of the state to ensure that these retiree concerns are addressed.
American Laws for American Courts
HB 45 provides necessary reform by clarifying and enforcing the rule of law which says that state courts may not enforce foreign laws or practices that violate the public policy of the State of Texas or violate the U.S. Constitution. HB 45 mandates that a ruling or a decision of a state court, arbitrator, or administrative law judge (ALJ) may not be based on a foreign law, if the application of that law would violate a right guaranteed by the Texas or federal Constitution. The bill also requires that contractual provisions requiring the application of foreign law are void to the extent they violate U.S. or Texas constitutional law, and prohibits a court from granting a motion to dismiss the case by refusing to take jurisdiction, if the foreign laws that would be applied to the dispute would violate a Texas or U.S. constitutional right.
My office enjoyed a visit this week from several House District 29 constituents! These tireless Arc of Texas volunteers advocate for Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Constituent Gwen Noser (seated) is raising funds for a new seizure alert dog. Click here to donate!
Freedom to Serve Children Act
I am a proud co-author of HB 3859 to protect faith-based child welfare service providers from discrimination, or adverse legal actions, for exercising their deeply held religious beliefs in the context of the foster care system. The bill enables providers to decline to offer certain services when those services conflict with sincerely held religious beliefs, while also requiring the state to ensure that alternate providers are available to offer any services that a faith-based provider declines to provide due to religious conflicts. It further aims to protect those who endeavor to serve children from being driven from their vocations simply because they choose to follow their faith. With this protection in place, Texas can meet the goal of building and sustaining diverse, high-quality foster capacity while respecting the individual needs and cultural backgrounds of all children.
Reporting Requirements for Abortion Providers
HB 2962 requires hospitals, emergency care facilities, and abortion clinics to give a quarterly report detailing any complication or injury resulting from an abortion as a specific complication of abortion, rather than a general complication of maternal health, which has been the typical practice. Separating abortion complications from maternal health statistics provides a more accurate picture of both maternal health and the after effects of abortion in Texas.
Inappropriate Teacher-Student Relationships
SB 7 expands criminal liability for teacher-student relationships to include educators who target students in other schools or other school districts. This criminalizes a failure to report inappropriate teacher-student relationships and revokes the pension of a teacher convicted of an improper relationship with a student. SB 7 also includes provisions for parental notification when an inappropriate teacher-student relationship is alleged.
The stately Capitol grounds in Austin features an impressive bronze statue of a cowboy riding a rearing horse. Texas is the “native home of the cowboy,” and this work by American sculptor Constance Whitney Warren represents her tribute to the “rough and romantic riders of the range.” Yee-haw!
Preparing for Hurricane Season
We are nearing the beginning of the 2017 hurricane season, so the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is urging Texans to begin making plans to protect themselves and their families. Hurricane season begins June 1 and continues through Nov. 30.
“Early preparation can be the difference between life and death when hurricanes or severe weather occur, and it is crucial for Texans to begin preparing for future storms now,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “DPS urges all Texans – not just residents living in coastal areas – to develop a hurricane plan and assemble an emergency kit in case of a disaster.”
Hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to coastlines, and winds can vary from 74 to 157 miles per hour (or higher). In addition, hurricanes and tropical storms can also spawn tornadoes, create dangerous coastal water conditions, including storm surges along the coast, and cause extensive damage from flooding.
Here are several measures residents can take now to prepare for potential storms:
- Assemble an emergency kit that includes essential documents, supplies and provisions.
- Review hurricane evacuation maps, and select a route for you and your family.
- Plan how all family members and pets will evacuate safely.
- Consider any special needs for individuals with disabilities or the elderly.
- Stay informed about changing weather conditions in and around your area.
If you or someone you know might need assistance during a disaster please register for the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry (STEAR), a free registry that provides local emergency planners and responders with additional information about needs in their communities. To register, contact 2-1-1 Texas, the state’s free 24-hour helpline. No matter where you live in Texas, you can dial 2-1-1 or (877) 541-7905 for community resources.
For more information about hurricanes and how to prepare for the 2017 hurricane season, visit this website.
I work for you! Please reach out to me and my staff if we can help you with any state matter or help answer questions about legislation. Our contact information is below. Thanks for helping keep Texas a great place to live!
God Bless Texas!