January 22, 2009

From the desk of Allen Vaught

Hot Topics for the 81st Legislative Session – Part 2

This article is the second in a three part series discussing legislative “hot topics” that will most likely take center stage during our current legislative session. In this article, I will cover the Texas Youth Commission and Health Care.

Texas Youth Commission
The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) is the state agency which operates the juvenile correctional facilities in the state of Texas. They are charged with balancing public safety with rehabilitation and prevention. More information may be obtained at their website: http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/.

You may remember the scandals that plagued the TYC around the time of the 2007 legislative session. The legislature took action that year and made a number of changes to the commission including creating an executive commissioner post and mandating at least 300 hours of training for TYC staff. These changes took effect in June of 2007 and have greatly improved the system; however, the TYC will be under Sunset Review this year. The Sunset Review Commission’s report may be found here http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/81streports/tyc/tyc_dm.pdf. Their suggestions may ultimately determine what future changes are needed for the TYC’s success.

The Sunset Review Commission recommends restructuring TYC and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission by abolishing them and creating one agency, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Additionally, the legislature may push for a system of smaller, regional facilities, similar to what has been successful in Missouri.

Health Care
During the 2007 legislative session, we changed eligibility requirements for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) so that eligibility was based on net family income instead of gross family income. We also changed the enrollment period back to 12 months from 6 months.
This program is meant to help those children whose parents or guardians make too much to be eligible for Medicaid, but too little to afford to purchase their own health insurance.

This legislative session we may see revisions to CHIP including increasing outreach and education funding to enroll more eligible children. By improving our enrollment of currently-eligible children in CHIP, we can ensure receipt of much needed federal bonus funds. Other proposals include permitting parents to “buy in” to CHIP if they do not have other affordable coverage options for their children, and restoring eligibility for the Medicaid Medically Needy program to those that were cut in 2003.

We may also consider increasing provider reimbursement rates for CHIP and Medicaid, and consider implementing a “health insurance exchange” that helps consumers and employers select and purchase appropriate health coverage. The Texas Department of Insurance is also under Sunset Review, which could allow legislators to revise rate regulations and monitor how financial data influences premiums charged by health insurers.

In the last and final article, I will cover the areas of transportation and public safety. Again, in no way are these articles meant to be a final list of legislation that will be introduced, but rather an overview of possible ideas that may be considered this session.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas regarding issues for the 81st legislative session. If there is something specific you would like to see addressed, please email my office at District107.Vaught@house.state.tx.us with the subject line 81st Legislative Session Topics.

As always, please feel free to contact my office at (214) 370-8305 with any questions regarding these or other state issues. I look forward to hearing from you.