Published 4:10 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Two bills to continue the operation of the boards that license doctors, counselors, and other healthcare providers are a single vote away from passage, setting the stage for a broad expansion of the special session agenda. Governor Greg Abbott has said that he will add 19 items to the call once the Senate passes these necessary bills, and the Senate is poised to grant final passage just after midnight Thursday morning.

All Texas state agencies are subject to the Sunset process, a periodic review by a commission made up of Senators and State Representatives that look at ways to improve and streamline these organizations.   These recommendations are rolled into what are called Sunset bills, which also contain language to extend the operation of the agency until its next review, typically 12 years later. If an agency’s Sunset bill doesn’t pass, it automatically begins the process of dissolving on the first day of September following the session.   That’s what happened to the bills continuing the Texas Medical Board, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors, and the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners. “Nearly 200 thousand Texas jobs are directly affected by these licensing agencies,” said Plano Senator Van Taylor. “These jobs serve at the core of the healthcare industry, which represents approximately 12 percent of our state’s economy.” If the agencies disappear, he warned, it will cause instability in that market sector and could endanger patient and consumer protections contained in the law.

Taylor offered two measures intended to make sure that doesn’t happen, Senate Bills 20 and 60. SB 20 would simply extend the authorization for the continued operation of the five agencies for another two years, delaying the Sunset date to September 1, 2019. SB 60 is a technical bill that ensures that these agencies can continue to receive funding over the next two years. Both bills were unanimously passed to third reading.

The Sunset bills that died in the regular session contained a number of reforms, particularly relating to unacceptable response times for complaint resolutions. These reforms weren’t part of the bills passed today, as Taylor told his colleagues, because the language of the Governor’s proclamation only permits bills limited to extending and not reforming the operations of the agencies. Taylor said that once the Governor expands the special session agenda, he believes lawmakers will have the leeway to take another look at reforming these boards in the next 30 days. If not, the Sunset Commission still has the authority to perform a limited review on the agencies over the next two years.

Senate rules require bills undergo two votes on two separate days in order to clear the chamber. The Senate will meet just after midnight Thursday in order to give final passage to the two bills, sending them on to the House. Once that’s done, Abbott has said he will add 19 more topics to the agenda. These issues will include property tax reform, regulations on public bathrooms, restrictions on municipal authority, regulation of abortions and mail-in ballot voter fraud. The Senate will begin committee hearings on bills relating to these topics starting Friday.