Budget Recap: House Democrats Successfully Fought to Put Texas Kids and Families First
House Democrats succeeded in making the House version of the budget better. Led by Rep. Sergio Muñoz and Rep. Ina Minjarez, House Democrats successfully added more money to Child Protective Services and foster care and Rep. Muñoz added an additional $21.5 million towards reversing the cuts made to acute therapy services for kids. Rep. Garnet Coleman secured vital funding for mental health crisis services.
Additionally, Rep. Abel Herrero led the successful passage of an anti-voucher amendment, sending a clear message to Governor Abbott and the Texas Senate that we want more funding for our local public schools, and that voucher schemes are going nowhere in the Texas House. This was on top of the already important efforts of Democrats on the Appropriations Committee who worked tirelessly to increase funding for student financial aid.
As with every state budget, with the good also comes the bad. At the end of the debate, after Democrats successfully killed an attempt to gut the Texas Dream Act, House Republicans succeeded in passing one of several anti-women’s health measures they had proposed. Sadly, this was no surprise, as Republicans have conducted an all-out assault on women’s health for years.
Democrats brought forth several amendments to increase funding for family planning services and to stop wasting money on ineffective, so-called crisis pregnancy centers. It’s low-income, rural and minority women who are paying the ultimate price for these tactics. House Democrats will continue to fight for access to needed health care for all Texans.
Actions have consequences.
Last session, in a backroom deal made during the 11th hour of the 84th Legislative Session, a Medicaid “cost-savings” measure was tacked on to the two-year state budget. The result — an estimated 60,000 low-income children were put in jeopardy of losing access to speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Since then, providers of these services have been fighting to keep their doors open. Last week, my staff met with an Arlington-based provider that serves 500 North Texas children covered by Medicaid. As a result of the draconian rate cuts, in just the past few weeks, this provider has had to:
Max out their line of credit
Lay off employees
Cut remaining employees’ pay by 10-15%
Negotiate lower utility costs to keep the lights on
Serve fewer children
To add insult to injury for acute therapy patients and providers, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission released a new set of cuts just a couple of weeks ago, including a 30% rate reduction for therapy assistants. This would hit rural and other underserved areas of the state particularly hard because in those communities, there is a shortage of licensed therapists. As a result, therapy assistants, who hold four-year college degrees, fill the gaps. However, in order to do so, they must be supervised in some capacity by a licensed therapist, an expense that is not reimbursed by Medicaid and is paid directly by the therapy service providers. Cutting therapy assistants’ pay is a double hit for providers.
Yesterday, the Senate approved their version of the state’s budget for the next two years. How much was included to reverse these terrible cuts? Zero. Nothing. Not one dime. Of course, it was Senate Republicans who added the rate cut measure to the budget two years ago, so…
Next week, consideration of the budget moves to the House floor. I haven’t seen the final version to be presented yet (it’s being considered by the House Appropriations committee right now), but my understanding is that there will be funds to reverse some of these cuts. It is my hope that the House fully fills the hole and I will continue to strongly push for that to happen, since we have the money to do so, regardless of what some Republicans may say.
Right now, the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), commonly known as the “Rainy Day Fund”, is flush with cash. In fact, it’s the largest such fund in the country and if left untouched, it’s estimated that by 2019 it will reach $12 billion.
The ESF was put in place to fund critical programs in tight budget years. Not using what would be a very small portion of the ESF to fully reverse the Medicaid therapy cuts is unfathomable.
Over the past few weeks and months, there has been a renewed push by families, providers and advocates to #ReverseTheCuts and videos featuring the children impacted by these cuts are being spread across social media. The videos are a moving reminder of what is at stake. I urge you to watch and see the faces of this issue. Click here to watch their stories.
You can help these kids.
Tomorrow, I, along with many of my House Democratic colleagues, will participate in a Thunderclap to spread attention about this issue. Thunderclap is a new concept for me, but the millennials on my staff assure me that it’s pretty effective. To make sure it is a success, we need your help.
Click here to join our Thunderclap campaign and share via Twitter or Facebook the Texas House Democratic Caucus’ message on reversing the cuts.
The social media posts will go out at the same time tomorrow (Thursday the 30th), so please sign up now!
Thousands of kids across Texas need our help.
Today, I filed HB 3897, which will name the northern portion of the new State Highway 360 South extension the Rosa Parks Memorial Parkway.
The new SH360 South extension will serve a diverse community in Southeast Tarrant County and the names of our major roadways should celebrate that diversity. Rosa Parks was one of the most important figures in American history. Her simple, yet extraordinary, act of courage on a city bus in 1955 – refusing to give up her seat to a white man, despite being ordered to do so by the bus driver and her subsequent arrest – set in motion the events which ignited the Civil Rights Movement and led to the demise of legalized segregation. To paraphrase a quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of, Rosa Parks helped bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
The measure would name the portion of the highway located in House District 101 – from Sublett Road/West Camp Wisdom Road to the northern Mansfield city limits – in memory of Parks. Other bills have been filed to name the roadway in honor of former state Senator Chris Harris, who served Tarrant County in the Texas Legislature from 1985 – 2013 and passed away in 2015. HB 3897 incorporates that proposal by designating the southern segment of the roadway as the Senator Chris Harris Memorial Highway.
To show your support of this effort, please share the image above on your social media pages and with your network. You may also add your name to our list of supporters, by clicking here.
After a Texas Tribune series exposed the connections between the state’s embattled child welfare system and child sex trafficking, the chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus has asked state
“If there was ever a call to action for state officials to get serious about reforming foster care, this was it,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, wrote in the letter to Paxton on Wednesday.
The lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit filed against Texas’ child welfare system was a victim of sex trafficking. Turner’s letter cited The Texas Tribune’s reporting in the “Sold Out” series, which found there could be tens of thousands of child sex-trafficking victims in Texas today — and that many of them have had some contact with the child welfare system.
“Those stunning facts should outrage every single one of us,” Turner wrote.
Since a federal judge ruled in late 2015 that the long-term foster care system had violated children’s constitutional rights by placing them at undue risk of harm, Paxton has objected to or worked to delay various court-ordered reforms.
The judge’s scathing opinion held that Texas had violated the constitutional rights of some 12,000 children in permanent managing conservatorship, the state’s designation for children who cannot find lasting homes with relatives or adoptive parents and are unable to be reunited with their biological families. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled that children “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.”
“Since the ruling, you and your office have inexplicably spent an inordinate amount of time, energy and money on pointless and unsuccessful appeals and objections,” the letter said. Paxton’s most recent objection, which the court rejected last week, is the latest example of “legal foot-dragging,” Turner wrote.
Paxton and other top Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have argued the class-action lawsuit against the state a waste of money, that the federal judge overstated foster care’s deficiencies and that the state can make its own decisions about reforms. Paxton’s office has called the ruling a “misguided federal takeover of the Texas foster-care system.”
Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. In previous comments about the lawsuit, Paxton has said he is obligated to defend the state, not make policy.
Link to letter to Attorney General Paxton: 2.22.17_CTurner_LettertoAGPaxton_CPS.FosterCare
Last Wednesday, 45 constituents and friends hopped on an early-morning bus and headed to Austin for our biennial Texas 101 Day at the Capitol. The day was a bigsuccess.
First, it was my honor to have Pastor Oluwafiropo RopoTusin, Senior Pastor of Arlington’s Household of Faith, serve as Pastor of the Day for the House of Representatives. Pastor RopoTusin opened the House proceedings with a beautiful prayer.
Once our constituents were seated in the House gallery I recognized the group from the House floor, before we headed over to the Texas AFL-CIO for lunch and guest speakers, including AFL-CIO President John Patrick and State Representative Nicole Collier. We ended the day with a trip and tour of the amazing Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Museum and Library.
The next day, my staff and I began our annual, two-day retreat focused on our work at the Capitol during session, as well as our constituent service and outreach plans in the district. Our team has a lot of great ideas for continuing the excellent level of service District 101 deserves. Our retreat confirmed what I already knew – I’m lucky to have such a dedicated team working on behalf of the people of House District 101.
Our first district outreach events of this new year are rapidly approaching: I hope that you will join me on Saturday, February 25 for one of our Town Hall meetings.
The first town hall meeting at will take place at 10:00 am at the Arlington Municipal Airport and the second will be at 2:00 pm at the Grand Peninsula Community Center in Grand Prairie. If you would like additional details, visit my Facebook page by clicking here or call 817-459-2800.
On Saturday, March 4th, we will officially open up our new district office, located at 320 Westway Place, Suite, 501 in Arlington. This will be a come-and-go open house. We will send more details soon, but please mark your calendar to save the date.
If there is anything my office can be doing for you, we’re always just a phone call or email away.
I look forward to seeing you soon.
The bus is leaving on Wednesday, February 8, for our biennial Texas 101 Day at the Capitol. My staff and I are putting together a great day of activities in and around the Capitol for those who attend.
Departing Arlington at 6:00am, the bus will arrive at the Capitol at 10:00am and return to Arlington at 7:00pm.Breakfast and lunch are provided. Space is limited, so email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 817-459-2800 for more details or to reserve your spot on the bus!
This week, Representative Chris Turner (HD 101- Grand Prairie) filed HB 519, which would update state law by requiring that children be restrained in a rear-facing car seat until the age of two, unless the child weighs more than 40 pounds or exceeds 40 inches in height. This measure mirrors American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) car seat recommendations, standards that have already been passed into law in numerous other states, including Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California.
According to a 2007 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children under the age of two are about 75 percent less likely to die or sustain serious injury in a rear-facing car seat than a forward-facing one.
“Keeping Texas children safe should always be our top priority,” said Turner. “By updating our outdated child car seat laws, we will better protect the youngest Texans and ultimately save lives.”
“Current Texas law is lacking when it comes to protecting our youngest and most vulnerable children from motor vehicle accidents,” said Joyce Elizabeth Mauk, MD, President of the Texas Pediatric Society, the Texas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Pediatricians recommend a rear-facing child safety seat until the age of two because it does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, distributing the force of the collision over the entire body.”
Turner’s bill has already garnered a great deal of support. Organizations endorsing the measure include: the Texas Pediatric Society, Texas Children’s Hospitals of Texas, Safe Kids Austin, Texas Hospital Association, CLEAT, Texas EMS Trauma & Acute Care Foundation, Texas Nurses Association, Texas State Association of Firefighters, Texas EMS Alliance, and AAA Texas. During the 2015 Legislative Session, a similar measure by Turner was passed out of the House Committee on Transportation.
State Senator Judith Zaffirini has filed the Senate companion (SB 278).
“BSI (Brain Synergy Institute) put the health and safety of participants at risk…”
Last year, I asked for an Inspector General (IG) auditof a 2013 contract between Brain Synergy Institute (formerly Carrick Brain Centers) and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The request came after Dallas Morning News and NBC5 news stories highlighting troubling issues with the contract and the use of a controversial “spinning chair” treatment on veterans with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Late last week, the IG’s report was released and the findings confirmed many of my concerns.
First, some background – in the summer of 2013, then-Governor Rick Perry’s staff began negotiations with HHSC executives to sign a contract with Irving-based Brain Synergy Institute (BSI) for a research study focused on treating veterans with PTS and/or TBI with a spinning chair or “Off-Vertical Axis Rotation Therapy” (OVART). This controversial “treatment” had not been vetted by the scientific community and there was no proof that it would help veterans, or anyone else. Even so, after Governor Perry visited BSI several times and with pressure from his office, the contract was quickly approved.
The state ended up spending more than $2.2 million of your money on this useless “study.”
The Inspector General concluded what I have suspected all along – a stunning level of incompetence on the part of former agency officials and abuse of taxpayer dollars by BSI.
Here’s are some of the deficiencies highlighted in the report:
- A poorly designed contract, including inadequate research protocol and did not have a control group nor oversight by an Institutional Review Board (IRB)
- BSI didn’t provide the same treatment to all participants, making findings invalid
- Completion reports didn’t meet the contract requirements
- The study was not valid and there is no way to determine whether participants benefitted from the treatment
- BSI billed for treatment of veterans who were not Texas residents and several veterans who had already received the treatment
- Worst of all, BSI put the health and safety of participants at risk
In response to the findings, HHSC is demanding BSI pay back over $278,000 to the state of Texas.
Getting some money back from these bad actors is a good start, but given the long list of their failures, they should return every penny of the $2.2-plus million they received as part of this contract.
BSI is not the only one at fault. This is yet one more example of the cronyism that was rampant during the administration of Governor Perry. It is clear this contract would never have happened were it not for his office’s meddling.
Texas taxpayers deserve better than this kind of corruption and cronyism. And veterans who have served our nation deserve better than useless studies and false promises.
Bring an unwrapped toy for a child served by Mission Arlington. To RSVP, click here or call 817-459-2800.