Welcome to the latest edition of Texas Legislative News for the 88th Texas Legislature. In this weekly feature, we provide information on disability-related issues being considered at the State Capitol. We also include overviews of how lawmakers conduct business and provide details on upcoming TCDD events.
With committees now meeting regularly, there are numerous opportunities for advocates to offer public comments on issues and legislation that would impact their lives. Last week, TCDD staff provided public testimony on four occasions covering a range of topics.
TCDD Public Testimony
Special Education Funding
TCDD Public Policy Analyst Sabrina Gonzalez Saucedo submitted written testimony on Feb. 27 to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III — the section of the state budget that covers education funding — regarding the special education funding formula. Gonzalez Saucedo highlighted that the current funding model for special education is outdated and not reflective of the actual costs of meeting the needs of students with disabilities.
To better serve students with disabilities, Gonzalez Saucedo noted that Texas should transition to an intensity-based funding formula so, “the state funds special education based on the needs of the student rather than the placement in which the student receives services.” This recommendation was unanimously offered in the Texas Commission on Special Education Funding’s Report to the Legislature, which was required under House Bill (HB) 1525 from the 87th regular session in 2021.
Death Penalty Prohibition for People with Intellectual Disabilities
On Feb. 28, Gonzalez Saucedo also provided written remarks on HB 381, which relates to the prohibition on using the death penalty against a person with an intellectual disability convicted of a capital offense. This bill was recently featured as a TCDD Bill of the Week.
In her remarks, Gonzalez Saucedo explained that HB 381 would provide a standard way to determine if a defendant has an intellectual disability prior to their trial and sentencing, in line with Supreme Court rulings. She stated that the bill is a “common sense, cost-effective piece of legislation” that will help ensure that defendants with intellectual disabilities receive impartial justice when being tried in capital cases.
Community Attendant Wages
TCDD Public Policy Director Scott Daigle submitted written remarks on Feb. 28 on the hearing for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article II, which relates to health and human services funding in the state. Daigle urged the subcommittee to increase the wages of community attendants in Texas.
Daigle noted that community attendants are vital to the livelihood of Texans with disabilities, but low wages have placed the profession in a critical state. He referenced a recent Coalition of Texans with Disabilities study (PDF, 10 pages, 4.5 MB) that found that “the base hourly wage rate for attendants is $8.11, resulting in most living at or below the poverty level and thereby relying on public assistance for housing and food” along with little to no employment benefits.
Daigle’s testimony included comments from TCDD Council Member Angie Panzica, who shared the necessity of community attendants to her well-being:
“Community attendants are an integral part of my daily life. I have lived alone in an apartment and managed my own attendant care for almost 18 years. I require complete assistance with getting in and out of bed, bathing, dressing, meal preparation, and these are the basic tasks, which do not include the more intimately related tasks like bladder irrigation and bowel program. However, I consider myself one of the blessed few who has had the same community attendant for 11 years. She is a lifelong attendant, nearing retirement age. She works tirelessly each day, which is split into a morning and a night shift, seven days a week.”
“The only break she receives is when my elderly mother comes to relieve her periodically for a shift or two. I would love to give her some relief, but recruiting additional staff with such a low hourly pay rate has proven to be virtually impossible.”
“I am an incredibly independent person who leads an active lifestyle, which includes working with and volunteering on behalf of individuals with disabilities as a social worker. Independence and productivity cannot happen unless a caring and consistent individual like my attendant walks through the door.”
Early Childhood Intervention
TCDD Public Policy Analyst Lauren Gerken also attended the Article II Subcommittee hearing and provided verbal and written testimony regarding early childhood invention (ECI) services. ECI serves babies and toddlers with developmental delays, disabilities, or a qualifying medical diagnosis, and is vital in promoting their independence.
Gerken explained that ECI provides a return on investment of between $2.50 and $17.07 for every dollar spent on early intervention services, and she called for increased state funding to support providers struggling with low Medicaid reimbursement rates and family cost share. Gerken shared her own success story with the program, stating, “ECI changed the trajectory of my own life from the bleak predictions offered by my doctors at birth to one that instilled me with fortitude (and) a belief that my disability contributed to my worth while giving me the foundational skills I needed to chase the future that has become my present.”
If you’d like to give remarks at an upcoming hearing but aren’t sure how to craft your comments, we’ve created a My Testimony Blueprint (PDF) that can be used as a framework. For more information, see Legislative Advocacy Resources.
Disability Policy Academy
TCDD will host a Disability Policy Academy at 1 p.m. CT on Wednesday, March 15. The event, titled “Disability Priorities for the 88th Texas Legislature,” will feature representatives from disability-related organizations who will share their top issues for the legislative session. TCDD Public Policy Director Scott Daigle will serve as the event’s moderator. The event will be held via Zoom. Participants must register ahead of time to attend.
Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) service will be provided during the event. If you need other accommodations to participate, please email Koren Vogel or call her at 512-948-2035.
Texas Autism Advocacy Day
On Tuesday, April 4, the Autism Society of Texas and other nonprofit groups, stakeholders, parents, and advocates will visit the Capitol and discuss legislative issues that impact people with autism and their loved ones. Issues and advocacy training will take place in the morning, followed by lunch. After lunch, attendees will visit with legislators or legislative staff. Financial assistance is available to cover registration fees for those who need it, and you must register by March 8 to guarantee a T-shirt size. Learn more and register.
Hearings To Watch
The following section includes a sample of the hearings we’re monitoring this week. During these hearings, legislative committees may consider important disability-related bills. You can find live and archived broadcasts of committee hearings on the House and Senate websites.
The House Public Health Committee held a hearing on Monday morning, March 6. The committee discussed the following notable bills:
- HB 112 by Rep. Donna Howard, relating to workplace violence prevention in certain health facilities
- HB 233 by Rep. Andrew Murr, relating to in-service training on identifying abuse, neglect, and illegal, unprofessional, and unethical conduct in certain health care facilities
The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on Monday morning, March 6. The committee discussed the following notable bills:
- HB 300 by Rep. Donna Howard, relating to an exemption from sales-and-use taxes for certain family care items
- HB 596 by Rep. Matt Shaheen, related to local property tax exemptions for doctors who provide services to residents with lower incomes or Medicaid recipients
- House Joint Resolution (HJR) 45 by Rep. Matt Shaheen, related to local property tax exemptions for doctors who provide services to residents with lower incomes or Medicaid recipients
The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday morning, March 7. The following bill is among the legislation the committee will discuss:
- HB 727 by Rep. Toni Rose, relating to the applicability of the death penalty to a capital offense committed by a person with severe mental illness
The House Human Services Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday morning, March 7. The committee will discuss the following notable bills:
- HB 54 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, relating to the personal needs allowance for certain Medicaid recipients who are residents of long-term care facilities (This was previously featured as a TCDD Bill of the Week.)
- HB 113 by Rep. Lina Ortega, relating to the use of community health workers in Medicaid-managed care
- HB 140 by Rep. Mary González, relating to the provision of certain co-navigation services to individuals who are deaf-blind (This was also previously featured as a TCDD Bill of the Week.)
The House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday morning, March 8. The committee will discuss the following notable bills:
- HB 186 by Rep. Julie Johnson, relating to the county in which an application for court-ordered mental health services must be filed
- HB 272 by Rep. Julie Johnson, relating to the terminology used to refer to an individualized education program team
- HB 446 by Rep. Tom Craddick, relating to the terminology used in law to refer to intellectual disability and certain references to abolished health and human services agencies
The Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday morning, March 8. The committee will discuss the following notable bills:
- Senate Bill (SB) 133 by Sen. Royce West, relating to prohibiting physical restraint or the use of chemical irritants on certain public school students by peace officers and school security personnel under certain circumstances
- SB 891 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, relating to excused absences from public school for a student’s mental or behavioral health
Bill Filing Continues
About 5,300 bills have been filed for lawmakers to consider in the coming months. Here are some examples of recently filed proposals related to disability issues:
- HB 2858 by Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, relating to state and local government disaster preparedness
- HB 2943 by Rep. Janie Lopez, relating to designating Oct.17 as Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Day
- HB 3068 by Rep. Venton Jones, relating to the medical use of low-THC cannabis by patients with certain medical conditions
- HB 3132 by Rep Bobby Guerra, relating to an optional designation on a driver’s license or personal identification certificate indicating that a person has a hearing impairment
- HB 3159 by Rep. Jeff Leach, relating to the use of an accessible absentee mail system by certain voters
- HB 3162 by Rep. Stephanie Klick, relating to advance directives and health care treatment decisions made by or on behalf of patients, including a review of those directives and decisions
- HB 3233 by Rep. Josey Garcia, relating to additional requirements for individualized education programs developed for children with autism or other pervasive developmental disorders
- HB 3238 by Rep. Liz Campos, relating to a family service plan
- HB 3330 by Rep. Carl Sherman Sr., relating to the establishment of a task force on the statewide alert systems for abducted children and missing people with intellectual disabilities
- HB 3446 by Rep. Harold Dutton, relating to court-ordered financial support by parents of an adult with a medically determinable disability
- HB 3462 by Rep. Candy Noble, relating to the consolidation of ombudsman programs administered by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission
- SB 1225 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, relating to policies and procedures regarding certain public school students with disabilities
- SB 1264 by Sen. Tan Parker, relating to the issuance of disabled parking placards to certain day activity and health services facilities that transport people with disabilities
- SB 1279 by Sen. Joan Huffman, relating to the release on a personal bond of certain defendants with mental health conditions or intellectual disabilities
- SB 1317 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, relating to the provision of certain co-navigation services to individuals who are deaf-blind
- SB 1353 by Sen. Borris Miles, relating to the applicability of the death penalty to a capital offense committed by a person with an intellectual disability
- SB 1474 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, relating to special education in public schools, including the special education allotment under the Foundation School Program; an education savings account program for certain children with disabilities; and a grant program to reimburse public schools for the cost of certain employer contributions for retirees of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas employed to teach special education
- SB 1539 by Sen. Tan Parker, relating to the terminology used to refer to an individualized education program team
- SB 1585 by Sen. Kevin Sparks, relating to certain proceedings in juvenile court for children with mental health conditions and intellectual disabilities
TCDD Policy Staff Spotlight
In this update, we highlight a member of the TCDD Policy Team. This week, we feature Public Policy Intern Carsyn Collins.
How long have you been at TCDD?
About two months
What issues are you tracking for TCDD?
This session, I am tracking bills related to special education and other topics. I’m also heavily involved in the drafting of our Texas Legislative News and Bill of the Week features.
Is there a specific bill or topic that you’re particularly interested in?
After attending a press conference on this topic, I’ve been interested in following legislation involving ending harmful restraint on students with disabilities.
When not working, you can be found…?
When I’m not working, you can find me at the gym or at the LBJ School, where I’m currently pursuing a Master of Public Affairs degree.
Who is your favorite musician or band?
Harry Styles is my favorite artist — and One Direction!
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