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By Rep. James Frank—
In the midst of a fairly busy national news week, including the Presidential Inauguration, the Texas Legislature is in the organization and preparation phase of the 140-day session. While we wait for committee assignments, my staff and I have been working on our priorities, filing legislation, and preparing for the busy days ahead.
For example, this week I introduced HB 1210, which would ensure earlier notification when new wind energy projects potentially endanger military missions. There is still some work left to do on this bill, but I’m hopeful it can continue the work Texas has done to protect national security and the economic importance of military bases.
Looking ahead, I’ve outlined five of the big issues that I expect to consume the majority of the Legislature’s time and attention this session: the budget, redistricting, health care costs and access, the government’s response to COVID-19, and the separation of powers. I’ve given a brief overview of each issue below, but, as always, I encourage you to contact my office should you have any questions or comments.
Although this past year has been unlike any before, the Legislature still has to write the budget for the next two years. Recently, the Comptroller submitted the Biennial Revenue Estimate for 2022-2023 which estimated that while the state will have less money to spend than last session due to the economic impact of COVID-19, we are significantly better off than previously feared.
I remain confident that we will be able to hammer out a budget that ensures continuity of core government services and does not overly burden the Texas taxpayers and businesses which keep our economy going.
The Legislature is tasked with redrawing the maps for State Representatives, State Senators, the US House and the State Board of Education based on the census data collected in 2020. However, because the census data is delayed, it is practically guaranteed that the Legislature will have to reconvene in a special session this summer to finish the redistricting process.
Redistricting is the most politically charged and personal policymaking the Legislature does, and this will be my first time to experience it. We’ll have more details on the process – and potential maps – over the coming weeks.
Health care has become too expensive, too hard to access, and not centered around the patient. It is no longer a functioning, competitive market and all Texans suffer for that fact. A market doesn’t work if prices are not clear and subject to the pulls of market forces. It is impossible for Texans to know what their health care actually costs–at every level (provider, insurer, government). We must allow that information to flow and inform our decisions.
A market also doesn’t work when there is not real competition and when the rules of the game are written to restrict market access instead of enable it. Proper regulation is necessary to ensure that health insurance does what it’s supposed to do (provide a backstop so that Texans aren’t financially ruined by unexpected medical problems) rather than what it’s currently doing in many parts of the state (restricting patient choice).
Finally, the Legislature should improve Medicaid to better provide coverage for the truly needy and provide a pathway to self-sufficiency. I’m optimistic the Legislature can and will make progress on addressing these issues over the next five months and will be doing my best to contribute to that progress.
The ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced the state to react quickly. Some of these actions (like relaxing nonsensical licensing regulations and allowing customers to purchase alcohol to-go) might lead to permanent action because of the increased access given to Texans. However, others (like the indefinite limiting of visitors to nursing homes) must be addressed, hopefully with legislation like HB 892 and HJR 46, which would ensure no Texan is ever denied personal visits with loved ones due to a government order again.
Historically, the Governor’s emergency powers were primarily used to respond to disasters like floods and wildfires. They were not, however, created to handle an 11-months long (and counting) public health emergency. This past year we have seen businesses shut down and nursing homes lock their doors because of executive orders. I believe there needs to be legislation passed to give the Legislature greater oversight of an extended emergency declaration, but it must be done intelligently and with great care to ensure we don’t create later problems with our solution to this one.
This is in no way a shot at Governor Abbott, as he has been put in a nearly impossible situation with few easy answers.
Rep. James Frank outlined the issues in Austin in his newsletter.