May 26, 2009

From the desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

Legislation Passed in the 81st Legislative Session
As we draw closer to the end of the 81st legislative session, I want to discuss some of the issues and topics that have passed the House and Senate. This will be a series of articles about legislation, with this first article looking at a few of the bills that have been signed by the Governor to date.

Domestic Violence
We hope to provide some assistance to victims of domestic violence with the passage of Senate Bill 83. Before, a victim wanting to leave an abusive relationship would risk facing fines and charges as well as harm to the their credit and rental history for breaking a residential lease if the abuser was not on the lease with the victim. This bill authorizes a victim or a parent or guardian of a victim of a sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, or continuous sexual abuse of a child to terminate a lease early and releases the victim from liability if the assault took place at the leased property. The legislation helps to remove a victim from their living situation without the fear of some negative repercussion to their credit or rental history.

Child Safety
A recalled children's product can unknowingly end up in your child’s child care facility. If a United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recall alert does not reach you or your childcare facility, you risk an unintended injury to your child. Senate Bill 95 stipulates that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services must include a link on its website to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In addition, a child care facility must certify in writing that a review of the bulletins and notices regarding recalled children's products has occurred. With over 4,000 product recalls total, this legislation creates another avenue to inform caregivers and protect children.

Children with Disabilities
Healthcare costs are forcing many middle income families with disabled children into difficult circumstances. A family with an income level too high to qualify for Medicaid benefits but low enough that adequate health care is difficult to afford for their disabled children, may find some relief with changes made through Senate Bill 187. In September of this year, the Health and Human Services Commission will implement a Medicaid buy-in program for families with children of certain disabilities. Participants will pay a monthly premium on a sliding scale based on family income.

Emergency Preparedness
Recent natural disasters and the H1N1 flu scare emphasize the need for regional and national coordination among public health officials. The relocation of Texas residents out of Texas requires a seamless exchange of immunization records to help protect everyone's public health. Senate Bill 347 allows the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to share immunization records of Texas resident evacuees with other states and local health departments. Currently, an exchange of records is permitted under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) guidelines. Now, Texas can participate in the process of exchanging information with other states in the interest of public health.

Pipeline Safety
The Railroad Commission is the regulatory body responsible for overseeing oil and natural gas pipeline safety. The pipeline safety program is funded through a user inspection fee and federal matching funds that are distributed based on staffing levels of the safety program. Understaffing of the pipeline safety program reduces federal dollars received by the commission. Senate Bill 1658 makes it possible to add additional personnel to maintain the current programs and receive federal matching funds by slightly increasing the pipeline user inspection fee.

The next several articles will continue to highlight the major legislation which has passed during the 2009 legislative session.

As always, please feel free to contact my district office at (214) 370-8305 or my capitol office at (512) 463-0244 if you have any questions regarding state matters. I look forward to hearing from you.