In April, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released the Texas Senate’s list of interim charges (PDF), which the Senate will hold committee hearings to consider. This followed the Texas House interim charges that were released in March.
In this special TCDD Texas Legislative News update, you will learn what the Senate interim charges include, why they are important, and how you can share input.
What are interim charges?
The Texas Legislature meets in regular sessions for 140 days every two years. In Capitol jargon, the word “interim” refers to the time between regular sessions. Lawmakers spend the interim conducting oversight of state agencies, reviewing the implementation of new laws, and investigating new areas of concern. These tasks are guided by what are known as “interim charges.”
As defined by the Texas Legislative Council, an interim charge is, “a directive to study a certain issue during the interim that is issued by the Lieutenant Governor to a senate committee or by the Speaker of the House to a House committee.”
Lawmakers, advocates, and stakeholders submit interim charge recommendations hoping to influence what ends up on each chamber’s batch of directives. For instance, TCDD has provided its own suggestions in recent years, and a few of those items have been included on the final list.
Once interim charges are distributed, committees meet, take input, study the assigned topics, and produce reports based on their findings. These reports can result in legislation to be considered in the next regular session.
What’s in the Senate’s interim charges?
The following list includes some of the Senate interim charges that might impact people with disabilities.
Student Discipline: Review and evaluate the operation of disciplinary alternative education programs and juvenile justice alternative education programs with an emphasis on quality of academic instruction; lengths of placements; physical conditions; administration of student discipline and law enforcement interventions; implementation of positive behavior management strategies; and the availability and delivery of mental health support services. Make recommendations to support and promote the success of these programs and enhance the ability of public schools to meet the needs of students through innovative school discipline models.
Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 87th Legislature as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete the implementation of Senate Bill 1716, which relates to a supplemental special education services and instructional materials program for certain public school students receiving special education services.
Nursing Home Funding: Examine state investments in the long-term nursing home care system. Study nursing facility funding issues and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the capacity and delivery of care. Explore nursing facility quality metrics and recommend strategies to improve the sustainability of the long-term care workforce.
Medicaid: Monitor the financial impact of federal decision-making affecting supplemental Medicaid funding for Texas hospitals and health care systems, including negotiations between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Texas Medicaid agency regarding the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver and other federal proposals reducing supplemental funding streams for Texas.
Mental Health Delivery: Examine the state mental health service delivery system. Study the state’s Comprehensive Plan for State-Funded Inpatient Mental Health Services and the Statewide Behavioral Health Strategic Plan and evaluate the existing state investments in mental health services and state hospital capacity. Review current forensic and civil mental health service waitlists and recommend ways to improve coordination and outcomes to reduce waitlists. Explore and report on options for additional mental health service capacity, including building state hospitals in the Panhandle and Rio Grande Valley areas.
Health and Human Services Committee
Foster Care: Evaluate state investments in the child welfare system. Examine reasons for delayed implementation of past legislative reforms and any deficient agency performance metrics. Identify ways to continue to improve the child welfare system in Texas and consider other state models to ensure the health and well-being of children in state care.
Health Care Workforce: Study the impact of the global pandemic on the health care workforce in acute and long-term care. Identify health care staffing challenges and examine how staffing services and payment models changed the economics of the health care workforce. Identify and recommend ways to increase the health care workforce pipeline.
Pandemic Response: Examine the impact of state and federal pandemic policies — including agency guidance, licensing and regulatory actions, and health care industry policies — on patient care and treatment delivery. Examine how regulatory guidance impacts the patient-doctor relationship. Recommend any changes needed to ensure Texas can develop its own data-driven guidance during public health emergencies.
Higher Education Committee
Workforce Education: Evaluate state efforts to support access to work-based learning and microcredential opportunities, including apprenticeships, industry-based certificates and certifications, and competency-based education. Assess the potential benefits of expanding access to work-based learning, apprenticeships, microcredentials, and industry-based certifications that are aligned to workforce needs and provide in-demand workforce skills and competencies. Evaluate existing resources and programs at institutions, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas Workforce Commission to support these opportunities and ultimately reach Tri-Agency goals. Consider recommendations to standardize these programs to increase postsecondary degree completions.
Enrollment Trends: Study the postsecondary enrollment trends across all sectors and levels of higher education in Texas with a review on specific challenges to enrollment. Consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on direct high school-to-college enrollment, first-time college enrollment, transferability, and retention rates, as well as the overall impact on community college enrollment. Make recommendations on specific methods to address disparities and pandemic impacts related to enrollment trends in order to achieve Texas’ higher education goals in building a Talent Strong Texas.
State Affairs Committee
Elections Administration: Study how the allocation of polling locations is determined for early voting and election day for counties with county-wide voting and counties without county-wide voting and report whether current law provides for equitable distribution. Study the protocols and scheduling of proper maintenance and calibration of election equipment and recommend what is required for maximum efficiency, accuracy, and security. Study the history of a holiday falling within the early voting period and recommend methods to ensure that early voting always has the required number of days, and every qualified voter has the opportunity to vote. Study and recommend whether the state should shorten the primary election runoff period in Texas to allow voters to know whom their candidate is sooner while remaining in compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. Make recommendations to ensure it is easy to vote and hard to cheat.
What should advocates do now?
Advocates should review the full set of interim charges, including those listed in the previous section, and determine if there are any of interest. If so, they should consider reaching out to their lawmakers and providing feedback on the topic, especially if their representative is on the committee looking into that issue. Advocates might also want to provide testimony on the matter to a committee at a public hearing.
To find out who represents you in the House or Senate, go to the Who Represents Me page on the Texas Capitol website. The site can also be used to find committee membership for the House and Senate, and to sign up to receive alerts when committee hearings are scheduled.
TCDD monitors legislative activities that could impact disability-related programs and services. To ensure you receive our updates regarding legislative activities, subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.