FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 17, 2011
Austin — More than one month into session, committees are beginning to meet earlier and stay later. Most bills are being finalized, filed and referred to the committees where they will be considered. Many of you have made a visit to the Capitol or will come in the next few weeks. In the meantime, five things happening at your state capitol are:
1. Medicaid reform
As the state looks for ways to address budget challenges, it is necessary to look at Medicaid spending. Currently 28 percent of the state budget, if Medicaid costs continue to accelerate at the same rate they are expected to be more than 50 percent of state spending by 2040.
I filed Senate Bill 688 to help prevent and prosecute Medicaid fraud. The bill increases the statute of limitations on Medicaid fraud from 3 to 7 years, allows Medicaid fraud to be prosecuted as organized crime, and increases penalties for those convicted. These changes in the law were suggested to our office by Attorney General Greg Abbott. Last year, the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit identified $71 million in Medicaid overpayments. By giving the division needed legal avenues to prevent fraud, I believe our state will save even more. Additionally, the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Jane Nelson, filed two bills to improve the efficiency of Medicaid dollars spent.
This week I filed Senate Bill 730 which prevents current non-tolled roads from being converted into toll roads. This bill closes the last loophole for converting a non-tolled road to a tollway and should reassure drivers that the roads they drive on without a toll today will still be toll free tomorrow.
3. Blackout hearing
As I mentioned last week, the Senate's Natural Resources and the Business and Commerce Committees held a joint hearing to investigate the rolling blackouts experienced by Texans during the most recent round of severe weather. Representatives from the electric industry offered legislators reasons why equipment failure led to rolling blackouts statewide. The main cause was a lack of adequate winterization to protect against extreme cold which caused pipes and machinery to fail. As many as 82 generation units were affected causing the rolling blackouts.
4. Sonogram bill passes Senate
On Thursday, the Senate passed legislation requiring doctors to perform a sonogram on a woman seeking an abortion and make viewing and hearing the sonogram an option for the woman. The goal of this bill is to make sure a woman seeking abortion has the opportunity to be fully informed when making such an important decision. The measure passed on a vote of 21 to 10 and will now go to the House for additional approval.
The Senate Redistricting Committee held the last of its outreach meetings Wednesday. Throughout the interim, the Redistricting Committee traveled around the state to let citizens tell lawmakers how they want the redistricting process to proceed. On Thursday the Legislature received additional Census information which will allow legislators to begin drawing potential boundaries for Congressional and state districts. You can view the latest information about Texas Census numbers at: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.htm