Lawmakers Run to Prefile Bills for 77th Texas Legislative Session

By Melanie R. Margolis

On November 13, 2000, when Texas lawmakers ran to prefile over 250 bills on the first day of prefiling of bills for consideration during the 77th Texas Legislative Session, a variety of health care bills were at the front of the pack. When the 77th Texas Legislature convenes on January 9, 2001, a great many bills from the prefiling period will be ready for action, and health care promises to be a major emphasis. The subject matter of the prefiled bills informs us of the areas that are near and dear to the legislators’ hearts and lets us know the topics on which they will focus.

Many of the hottest topics are signs of the times, growing out of society’s technological advances. Such topics range from telemedicine, cloning, genetics, privacy, and the Internet to biological weapons. Other bills relate to more traditional health care issues: Medicaid, children’s health, licensure, and insurance coverage.

Senator Jane Nelson was prefiling at a fast clip. She chairs the Senate Health Services Committee, which has been studying medical privacy. She was quick to file legislation that seeks to protect the privacy of medical records (S.B. 11) and to prohibit discrimination based on use of medical information (S.B. 12) and genetic characteristics (S.B. 13) in employment eligibility and licensing. Also among a number of bills she filed were S.B. 102 regulating cloning and S.B. 93 regulating telemedicine.

Senator Mike Moncrief has filed legislation covering similar territory, including prohibiting discrimination based on genetic information (S.B. 60), use of and reimbursement for telemedicine in the Medicaid Program (S.B. 64, 69), and the use of automated systems to dispense prescription drugs (S.B. 65). In the House of Representatives, Representative Glen Maxey prefiled H.B. 93 seeking to regulate certain automated systems used to dispense prescription drugs, H.B. 99 seeking to regulate the sale and delivery of drugs via the Internet, and H.B. 100 seeking to regulate certain health care activities using the Internet.

Senator Judith Zaffirini chairs the Senate Human Services Committee, which has been evaluating the effectiveness of state regulatory efforts to ensure quality services in long-term care and examining the long term care business climate. Some of the numerous bills she sprinted to prefile include: S.B. 35, which would authorize the Health and Human Services Commission to make grants to community-based organizations to provide support for long-term care services; S.B. 38, which would authorize the conduct of architectural review before the construction or remodeling of certain long-term and other care facilities; S.B. 40, which would provide tuition assistance for licensed vocational nursing students who agree to practice in long-term care facilities; and S.B. 41, which proposes a franchise tax credit for expenditures made toward the cost of long-term care insurance policies for certain employees.

Children’s health also promises to be the subject of numerous bills, including bills attempting to increase health insurance coverage of uninsured children. Senator Nelson filed a bill (S.B. 19) intended to children's health through daily physical activity in public schools and a coordinated approach by public schools to prevent obesity and certain diseases. Senator Zaffirini prefiled bills that would: put in place a statewide education program to prevent infant mortality (S.B. 55); identify and address the needs of certain recipients of financial assistance and their dependent children; and simplify the certification process for medical assistance provided to children (S.B. 43).

Two bills addressing bioterrorism and biological weapons were filed by Senator Nelson. S.B. 94 addresses local government plans to respond to bioterrorism. S.B. 95 focuses on the possession, manufacture, transport, repair, or sale of chemical and biological weapons.

A number of bills relating to family violence were filed.  S.B. 15, by Senator Nelson, seeks to except from disclosure under the public information law certain information relating to family violence shelter centers.  S.B. 27, by Senator Florence Shapiro, proposes to create an address confidentiality program to assist victims of family violence or stalking in maintaining confidential addresses.  S.B. 46, by Senator Zaffirini, would require minimum training regarding family violence for certain state employees and other persons administering the financial assistance program and to identification of and services for certain victims of family violence. S.B. 47, by Senator Zaffirini, addresses residential and nonresidential services for victims of family violence.
We cannot be certain which of these bills will become law, but we know that most bills do not ultimately pass. Now that the sprint to prefile bills is underway, we can only speculate as to which bills will survive the rigors of the marathon known as the Legislative Session.