Committees begin hearings on expanded call

Published 6:30 pm Friday, July 21, 2017

Special to The Leader

Three Senate committees on Friday held hearings on bills added to the special session agenda by Governor Greg Abbott after the Senate passed key Sunset legislation earlier in the week.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee opened the day by hearing bills related to maternal health, regulation of do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders, and abortion regulations.   First up was SB 17 by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst, which seeks to address the maternal health problem in Texas, seen as the worst in the nation. Her bill would improve data collection and analysis and empower the Department of State Health Services to develop and implement programs to improve pre- and post-partum maternal health, including ways to address post-partum depression. Next on the agenda was a bill by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, SB 11, which would require that patients themselves get input into the DNR process. Perry said that doctors and family members can sometimes make end-of-life decisions on behalf of a person, without that person ever having a say. Under the bill, a DNR could not be applied to a person of sound mind without that person’s approval. Finally, Committee Chair and Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner offered SB 4, which would expand prohibitions on public funds to abortion providers. While the state has banned spending tax revenue on abortion providers since 2011, Schwertner’s bill would extend that restriction to the local level, prohibiting cities and counties from sending public funds to or otherwise subsidizing health providers that offer abortions.

In Senate State Affairs Friday, members heard testimony on a bill that would regulate who can use what public bathroom based on the gender on a person’s birth certificate. Often referred to as the “bathroom bill,” SB 3, also by Senator Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, would apply to multi-stall restrooms in public buildings, including schools, and would prohibit cities and counties from expanding protections against discrimination for certain populations as applies to bathrooms, changing facilities and other so-called “intimate areas”.   Unlike versions of the bill considered during the regular session, this bill would also apply to school athletics programs, prohibiting expansion of Title IX protections locally.

Finally Friday, the Senate Education Committee considered a school finance bill that would create special funding for students with disabilities and deal with an existing problem regarding money paid to districts to cover past tax cuts. When the Legislature cut property taxes by a third in 2006, it created a hold-harmless funding program to make up the difference in any lost revenue for school districts. It was hoped that property value increases would eventually make this program obsolete, but with it set to expire this year, many districts are still reliant on the funding. SB 2, by Friendswood Senator Larry Taylor, would create a new $270 million funding program to help these districts make ends meet.

The bill would also create a tax credit scholarship program for students with disabilities. It would permit insurance companies to write off donations to certain educational organizations. These organizations would administer a grant program, open to students with disabilities, to receive up to $10,000 towards private school tuition. It would also create a program, also open to students with disabilities, to award smaller $500 grants to help pay with additional education costs, like after-school tutoring, special instructional materials and transportation expenses.

The Senate has scheduled hearings throughout the weekend, and another round of hearings on different bills related to the expanded call will begin Saturday. The Senate is scheduled to meet again and begin voting on these measures Monday at 9 a.m.