AUSTIN — Legislation proposing emergency supplemental appropriations to keep Medicaid funded for the rest of the year was approved by the Texas House on Feb. 21. House Bill 10 authored by Reps. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

Medicaid serves the poor, the disabled, and older Texans. State funding to Medicaid, like education, transportation and other budget areas, was reduced by the Legislature in 2011 to address a projected budget shortfall. But a robust state economy over the past 18 months and brisk tax collections have improved the fiscal outlook. In response, HB 10 proposes to tap the state’s general revenue fund to the tune of $4.8 billion, $3.2 billion of which is designated for acute care services to be administered by the state Health and Human Services Commission, and a little over $1 billion for long-term care services to be administered by the Department of Aging and Disability Services. Tied to these appropriations are some $6.6 billion in federal funds.

CHIP, the state health insurance program that covers the children of needy parents, will get an infusion of $187.5 million if HB 10 becomes law.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has said, in effect, she plans to prevent health care legislation from picking up language that would result in the expansion of Medicaid. This is in line with Gov. Rick Perry’s stated position on Medicaid. Perry has said he plans to reject legislation that would bring millions more Texans into the Medicaid program at a potential cost of billions of dollars to Texas taxpayers. But the fact that nearly 6 million Texas residents have no health care insurance, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, points to the need for a safety net.

Unanimous passage of HB 10 in the House was accomplished by Republicans and Democrats agreeing that in addition to the shift of funding into Medicaid, funding taken away from public education last session would be restored, to some degree, in legislation up for consideration later in the current session. Last session, public education was cut by $5 billion, resulting in teacher layoffs and various reductions and curtailments.

Of course, the Senate may amend the HB 10. Any differences in the House and Senate versions would have to be ironed out by a conference committee of members of both bodies and returned for final votes by the full House and full Senate.

Senate confirms SBOE chair

State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill, a Republican from The Woodlands, on Feb. 21 was unanimously confirmed by the state Senate to her second consecutive two-year term as chair.

Cargill was first appointed as chair of the 15-member board by Gov. Perry in 2011 and re-appointed to a full two-year term on Feb. 1.

She represents SBOE Dist. 8, about 1.7 million people who reside in Brazos, Grimes, Houston, Montgomery, Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity and Walker counties.

AG sides with bill authors

Attorney General Greg Abbott on Feb. 20 joined with Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, to express support for SB 674 and HB 1624, legislation requiring that a vote to unionize be by secret ballot rather than by a public vote, as is currently the method.

Abbott said the legislation reinforces Texas’ status as a right-to-work state. Seliger said, “This bill simply seeks to codify and protect” the freedom to cast a vote in private. Anderson said, “My concern is about protecting employees from intimidation.”

Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller, in a Feb. 20 news release said however, that federal law governs union elections and supersedes any state attempt to regulate union elections in the private sector. “We believe the only workers who could arguably be affected by this legislation are police officers and fire fighters who have collective bargaining agreements with their local governments under state law,” she said.

Drought status continues

Gov. Perry on Feb. 21 extended for another 30 days the drought disaster proclamation that he initiated on July 5, 2011. The proclamation names 172 of Texas’ 254 counties, certifying that exceptional drought conditions pose a threat of imminent disaster in each of them.

Pursuant to the proclamation, “all necessary measures, both public and private,” as authorized under state law, may be implemented to meet that threat.