June 8, 2009

From the desk of Allen Vaught

Legislation Passed in the 81st Legislative Session
As the 81st legislative session has drawn to a close, I want to continue discussing some of the bills that passed the Texas House and Senate. This is the second article in a series of articles about legislation signed by the Governor to date.

Voter Registration
With the passage of House Bill 536, we hope to prevent the disenfranchisement of military personnel, members of the merchant marine, and any other Texas residents temporarily living abroad. This law authorizes a county to use the federal postcard application to register and apply to vote by mail. The applications are currently available to United States citizens through U.S. embassies and consular offices abroad; however, applying to vote by mail through the federal postcard application process has not served as a form of voter registration when the voter returned home from abroad. This legislation helps to remove that obstacle for voters by allowing the federal postcard application to automatically constitute registration for both the federal postcard application and the standard mail-in ballot.

State Board of Education
Current statute allows Texas governmental bodies the option of broadcasting open meetings over the Internet. For the past five years, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has broadcasted the State Board of Education (SBOE) meetings, but only its audio feed. In an effort to create transparency and open up the lines of communication between Texans and their government, House Bill 772 requires the TEA to broadcast open meetings of the SBOE over the internet through both video and audio feed. This change in law will take effect September 1st this year.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cases are growing in cost at an annual rate of $90 billion. The Autism Society of America estimates that the cost of ASD care could be reduced by two-thirds with early diagnosis and proper intervention. House Bill 1574 establishes a resource center through the Health and Human Services Commission to aid children and adults affected by ASD. A study will also determine the costs and benefits of initiating a pilot program to provide services to adult persons with autism and other related disabilities with similar support needs.

Nutritious Food Program for Children
Texas currently operates several school lunch and breakfast programs for children at risk, however, many children do not have access to such programs or nutritious food after school or if they are under the age of five. When children do not have access to healthy, nutritious foods, their risk of obesity increases. Obese children can develop serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, often carrying these conditions into adulthood. House Bill 1622 creates a grant program to provide children at risk for hunger or obesity increased access to nutritious food. The grant program will supplement current efforts by non-profit organizations by providing additional assistance.

Diabetes Education
Diabetes is a chronic disease that requires administering insulin and lifestyle changes such as modifying eating habits and increasing physical activity. A person with diabetes who does not have the proper education to manage their disease may have poor health management. A lack of diabetes education can result in blindness, amputation, kidney disease or heart disease. House Bill 1990 increases coverage under the Texas Medicaid program to include a self-management training pilot program for diabetics, without any significant increase in cost to the state. The Health and Human Services Commission will work with the Texas Diabetes Council to provide this training program.

The next article will continue to highlight major legislation which has passed during the 81st 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.