During the 86th Texas Legislature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) provides regular updates on disability-related issues that are being considered at the Capitol.
It was a busy week for TCDD at the Capitol, as Council and staff members offered testimony on eight individual bills.
Lora Taylor, TCDD Council Member and Public Policy Committee Chair, provided remarks on House Bill (HB) 3703 by Rep. Stephanie Klick. The bill would expand access to the Texas Compassionate Use Program, which currently allows certain children with intractable epilepsy to receive prescriptions for low-THC cannabis. Lora shared the expansive list of benefits that her daughter has seen through the use of CBD oil from the program, including less frequent and less intense seizures, decreased anxiety and spasticity, increased alertness, a stronger appetite, and better sleep.
TCDD Council Member Lora Taylor with Rep. Bill Zedler, a member of the House Public Health Committee’s Subcommittee on Medical Marijuana.
Ashley Ford, TCDD Public Policy and Communications Specialist, testified on the following measures:
- HB 4531 by Rep. Victoria Neave, relating to elderly persons and persons with a disability who are survivors of sexual assault.
- Senate Bill (SB) 585 by Sen. Kirk Watson, relating to sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking at public and private postsecondary educational institutions; providing an administrative penalty.
- HB 3165 by Rep. Tom Oliverson, relating to an occupational and life skills associate degree program offered by the Lone Star College System District.
- HB 3932 by Rep. Bobby Guerra, relating to the creation of the advisory council on postsecondary education for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Linda Logan, TCDD Public Policy Specialist, submitted written remarks on the following bills:
- SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, relating to prohibiting the use of certain behavioral interventions on students enrolled in public school who receive special education services.
- SB 1519 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, relating to a council on long-term care facilities.
- HB 3681 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, relating to preliminary examination periods for mental health protective custody.
You can read the testimony from Ashley and Linda here.
Special Education Press Conference
The State of Texas has come under scrutiny in the past few years, after a series of stories in the Houston Chronicle revealed that the State has been illegally blocking thousands of children with disabilities from receiving special education services. These denials had taken place after state officials arbitrarily placed a cap on the percentage of students (8.5%) that should receive special education services. To ensure school districts complied with the cap, districts that provided special education services to “too many” students were strictly audited.
The U.S. Department of Education found Texas’ cap to be in violation of federal statute, and it was recently estimated that the state will owe a penalty of $223 million to the federal government, which equates to about a quarter of Texas’ annual special education grant. The penalty’s total includes $111.6 million that the state may have to pay back for failing to spend it on students who receive special education services this fiscal year.
In response, some members of the Texas Legislature are working to secure protections for school districts, to make certain that they get proper special education funding regardless of what happens with the federal penalty. In a press conference earlier this week, advocates, parents, and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers came together to assure the public that they are working to not only allocate money to pay the fines to the federal government, but also to ensure that this problem does not continue into the future. Any action would likely need to be accounted for in the state budget, which will be deliberated upon by a conference committee over the next few weeks. You can watch the press conference here.
Hearings to Watch
Below is a sample of the hearings TCDD is monitoring this week. During these hearings, legislative committees may consider important disability-related bills. To receive notifications about new hearings that are scheduled with short notice, follow us on Twitter. You can find live and archived broadcasts of committee hearings on the House or Senate websites.
The House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing on Monday morning. They discussed HB 4476 by Rep. Yvonne Davis, creating a civil liability for abuse or exploitation of an elderly person or person with a disability. The bill would allow for claimants filing a suit under these circumstances to recover damages and reasonable attorney fees from the person responsible.
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Monday morning, as well. On the agenda was SB 1869 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, creating a franchise tax credit for taxable entities that employ people with disabilities. The credit would be equal to 50%of the employee’s wages up to $7,500.
The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence held a hearing on Monday afternoon. They will be discussing Rep. Reggie Smith’s HB 3177, which would prosecute the offense of continuous sexual abuse of a child or disabled individual. Under the terms of the bill, the offense would be punishable as a first-degree felony.
The House Human Service Committee will be holding a hearing early Tuesday morning. They will discuss several notable bills, including the following:
- HB 1564 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, which calls for the Health and Human Services Commission to establish a program to reimburse providers for support services for people who are deaf-blind. The services would include sighted guide services and assistance with communication accessibility; however, HHSC would not include interpreting for the person in formal settings or providing personal care services.
- HB 2966 by Rep. John Zerwas, relating to facilities and services for the care of the elderly or persons with disabilities in certain municipal hospital authorities, hospital districts, or other authorities. The bill states that certain hospital authorities cannot own or operate more than 50 licensed nursing home beds. This restriction would also apply to facilities that participate in the Quality Incentive Payment Program or a successor Medicaid supplemental payment program.
- HB 3170 by Rep. Jeff Leach, establishing an interim registry for people who have been accused of employee misconduct who are employed by a facility that provides care to individuals with an intellectual disability. Providers participating in the Home and Community-based Services waiver program or the Texas Home Living waiver program would be responsible for taking necessary actions regarding employees within this registry.
- HB 3611 by Rep. Yvonne Davis, relating to the number of people authorized to reside in certain homes and facilities for people with disabilities. The bill states that the limitation on the number of people who may reside in a community home does not apply to a licensed assisted living facility.
- HB 3675 by Rep. Andrew Murr, relating to the provision of food service, laundry service, and lawn care to certain mental health facilities and State Supported Living. The bill allows Kerrville State Hospital to provide food, lawn, and laundry services to a local mental health authority operating a crisis stabilization unit.
- HB 3991 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, relates to the deaf-blind with multiple disabilities waiver program. The bill calls for the establishment of a minimum reimbursement rate for interveners and orientation and mobility specialists providing services under this program. It also would increase the number of people receiving home-based and community-based services under this program.
- HB 4462 by Rep. Terry Meza, relating to the establishment of a task force to study access to legal services for people with disabilities. The task force would look at the availability of such services, as well as the barriers that people with disabilities face in accessing them, including communication, financial, medical, and cognitive barriers. It would also be allowed to develop instructional and training materials for legal professionals regarding legal issues affecting people with disabilities. The task force would then develop and submit a written report to the governor and legislature to communicate their findings.
The House Insurance Committee will be holding a hearing on Tuesday morning. They will be discussing HB 1635 by Rep. Rick Miller, relating to health benefit plan coverage for early childhood intervention (ECI) services. The bill would require insurance providers to include ECI among its covered rehabilitative and habilitative therapies.
The House Public Education Committee will be holding a hearing on Tuesday morning, as well. They will be discussing HB 3628 by Rep. Vikki Goodwin, which would establish a special education certification program for teachers to complete before teaching in special education classrooms.
The House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee will have a hearing on Wednesday morning. Among other bills, they will be discussing is Rep. Terry Meza’s HB 4469, which would establish a grant program and task force to study and provide financial support to people who are elderly or who have disabilities and have been affected by disaster issues.
The House Committee on Urban Affairs will also hold a hearing on Wednesday morning. The list of bills to be considered includes HB 3254 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, which would require the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to set aside for eligible supportive housing developments no less than 5%of the housing tax credits available for allocation in the calendar year.
The House Public Education Committee will be hosting a hearing on Wednesday morning, as well. They will be discussing HB 2797 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa, which defines “specialized support campuses” as those that serve only students receiving special education services or having significant medical or intensive behavioral needs. The bill would also call for appropriate accountability indicators to be adopted to monitor the effectiveness of these schools.
The House Public Health Committee will also conduct a hearing on Wednesday morning. Its agenda includes HB 3994 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, which would require health facilities providing rehabilitation or physical therapy services to have a sufficient number of van-accessible parking spaces.
The House Committee on Transportation will hold a hearing on Wednesday afternoon, where it will discuss HB 3163 by Rep. Drew Springer. The bill would establish some new standards for accessible parking spaces, including having the words “NO PARKING” painted on any access aisle adjacent to the parking space.