June 28, 2017

Texas 85th Legislative Digest – Issue 22, Regular Session Wrap-up

Issue 22 – June 26, 2017

Governor Calls Special Session
Gov. Greg Abbott announced on June 6 that he was calling a special session of the Texas legislature to convene on July 18. The legislature adjourned at the end of the regular session without enacting must-pass “sunset” safety-net legislation that would have continued five state agencies that license certain health care professionals. Sunset review is an evaluation of a program or agency’s effectiveness and performance, which is used to determine whether it should continue to operate. The sunset safety-net bill allows agencies under sunset review to continue operating. Without it, agencies for which individual sunset bills have not passed would be required to begin winding down operations.

Several professional licensing agencies were reviewed this session and legislation to continue their operation was passed, except for: the Texas Medical Board and the Texas State Boards of Social Worker Examiners, Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, Examiners of Psychologists, and Examiners of Professional Counselors. Several attempts to pass safety-net legislation extending the lives of those five agencies for another two years were unsuccessful, necessitating the special session.

In his announcement, Abbott chastised lawmakers, saying he was calling a special session, “[b]ecause of their inability or refusal to pass a simple law that would prevent the medical profession from shutting down.” He added that as long as they were in town, he had a list of 19 additional items lawmakers should take up during the 30-day special session, although those wouldn’t be added to the workload until the sunset legislation was passed by the Senate. The list included some of the more controversial issues considered during the regular session. These included rollback elections for property tax increases; restrictions on school bathroom use for transgender students; and school vouchers for special-needs students. The only insurance-related item on the governor’s list would require women to obtain separate insurance policies to cover non-emergency abortions.

Election Season Begins Post Session
The end of the 2017 Texas legislative session heralds the unofficial beginning of the 2018 election cycle. The conclusion of the session usually brings several announcements about lawmakers’ plans:

State senators serve four-year, staggered terms, so half of the 31 seats are up each election cycle. Those up for re-election in 2018 are:
  • Don Huffines (R-Dallas)
  • Joan Huffman (R-Houston)
  • Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville)
  • Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)
  • Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills)
  • John Whitmire (D-Houston)
  • Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)
  • Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)
  • Konni Burton (R-Colleyville)
  • Bob Hall (R-Canton)
  • Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown)
  • Van Taylor (R-Plano)
  • Kirk Watson (D-Austin)
  • Royce West (D-Dallas)
  • Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls)
Only Burton, Nichols and Seliger have indicated that they will seek re-election. Taylor is expected to run for the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, who announced in January his intention to retire when his term ends in 2018.

In addition to legislative offices, the following state-wide officeholders will also be running for re-election in 2018:
  • Gov. Greg Abbott
  • Attorney General Ken Paxton
  • Land Commissioner George P. Bush
  • Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
  • Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller
  • Comptroller Glenn Hager
Several members of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals will be up for re-election as well.

Governor Signs Budget and Wields Veto Pen
By the time the veto period ended at midnight on June 18, Gov. Greg Abbott had vetoed 50 bills and struck more than $120 million from a budget that had initially totaled $217 billion. The actual number of vetoes by Abbott is probably closer to 44, if vetoes are excluded for the line-item budget reductions and the bills pulled at the request of the lawmaker or duplicates of other bills passed in the current or past sessions.

Overall, the $217 billion appropriated for the 2018-2019 budget is about the same as the 2016-2017 level of support for public and higher education, health care, public safety and other services. It is a decrease of about 8 percent in “real” terms, due to Texas’ rapid population growth and inflation forecast for the next two years.

The Senate and House had conflicting provisions in their original budgets that included reductions to risk margins for all Medicaid programs up to 1.5 percent, which would have resulted in an overall reduction of $105 million in general revenue funds and a corresponding reduction in federal matching funds of $106 million. The Medicaid appropriation includes funding to restore approximately 25 percent of reductions made to therapy reimbursement rates in the 2016-2017 biennium; $1 billion overall in cost containment, including amounts related to reducing the Medicaid risk margin; and specific direction to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to contain costs and execute savings.

The supplemental budget bill covered the Medicaid shortfall for fiscal year 2017 as well as other budget items in which appropriations fell short of actual costs. Medicaid funds made up, by far, the largest amount of the $2.6 billion supplemental budget.

Abbott nixed $120 million from the budget for initiatives such as assisting needy border communities and improving the state's air quality. The reduction, which is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall budget, would "further restrain the growth of government and reduce the expenditure of taxpayer funds," Abbott said in his June 12 proclamation.

The governor vetoed around $87 million from a state program to help low-income Texans in urban counties repair or replace their cars if they fail emissions tests. He also cut $6 million for air quality planning at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, suggesting the program could "be funded at the local government level." Around $860,000 in funding for a measure to help Texans living in colonias — impoverished regions on the Texas-Mexico border — was eliminated, since the state budget already accounted for other sources of funding, Abbott said. He vetoed $150,000 for a Legislative Law Clinic at the University of Texas and around $4.7 million for "safety education" at the Texas Department of Public Safety, among other items.

Of the bills vetoed, only one dealt with an insurance or Medicaid issue. Senate Bill 670 would have required the governor to appoint the commissioners of the Departments of State Health Services and Family Protective Services. Currently, those commissioners are appointed by the executive commissioner for HHSC, which oversees the state Medicaid program. More than 150 bills became law without the governor’s signature, though many of those were related to local governmental entities such as municipal utility districts.

Health Insurance-related Bills of the Session
After getting off to a slow start during the filing period, the number of bills and joint resolutions (JRs) proposed during the 85th session was somewhat above average for a regular session. However, the number of bills passed was the lowest since 1995 when 1,088 were passed.

Bills and JRs Filed
Bills and JRs Passed
Bills w/o Signature
Bills Vetoed
2015 – 84th
2017 – 85th

Health insurance-related bills and/or joint resolutions made up a small portion of the total bills filed, but those that passed will have a significant impact on health plans as the new requirements are implemented.

Bills that will impact the health insurance industry, or would have if they had passed, are summarized below. Legislation that did not pass in one session will often be filed again in the next and may be topics for interim studies by legislative committees. Because of the limited time that the legislature is in session, in-depth studies of important issues often are conducted by committees during the interim, the period between regular legislative sessions.

BCBSTX Priority Accomplishments

Good Bills that Didn’t Make It

Adverse Bills that Died

Other Bills of Interest

With the 2017 legislative session concluded, the 2018 election cycle unofficially begins and the 2019 legislative session will follow.

Important dates:
       • July 18, 2017 Special Legislative Session begins
       • Aug. 16, 2017 Special Legislative Session ends Sine Die
       • Dec. 11, 2017 Candidate filing deadline
       • March 6, 2018 Primary election
       • Nov. 6, 2018 General election
       • Nov. 12, 2018 Early bill filing begins for the 86th Legislative Session
       • Jan. 8, 2019 86th Legislative Session begins
       • May 27, 2019 86th Legislative Session ends Sine Die
       • June 16, 2019 Last day the governor can sign or veto bills passed