The Texas Senate passed four bills Friday that will help balance the budget and prepare Texas for the next biennium.
The special session, which Gov. Rick Perry called Tuesday, started slowly after both the House and Senate adjourned without addressing legislation Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. But things got moving Friday with the bills, which will go to the House of Representatives early this week as the Legislature tries to finish their work in time for the 2012-13 biennium, which starts Sept. 1.
A round of applause erupted after the Senate unanimously passed the Medicaid Efficiency Bill, which overhauls how the state delivers health care and saves the state $700 million.
Authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the legislation expands Medicaid managed care and streamlines programs to achieve the budget Perry originally laid out.
Nelson’s legislation combines three measures that failed during the 82nd regular session. With the new bill, private health care providers are encouraged to improve patient outcomes and allow hospitals and doctors to work together to control costs. The bill also focuses on the privatization of health care and discourages the use of emergency rooms for non-emergencies.
“Our Medicaid costs are unsustainable and this legislation is critically needed to make our health and human services operate more efficiently on behalf of those who depend on state services and those whose tax dollars support the services,” Nelson said.
A Texas House committee approved similar legislation during the regular session, but the bill now goes to the House for final consideration.
During the same special session meeting in the Senate on Friday, legislators struggled to pass the bills relating to state fiscal matters, including the School Finance Bill, which Democrats have fought against.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, led a rally at the Capitol with school officials and educators demonstrating their disapproval of the School Finance Bill, which will distribute $4 billion less to public schools than the current budget allots.
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, author of the bill, tabled numerous attempts to amend the $4 billion cut by using the Rainy Day Fund.
“I do think this is an important issue that needs to be revisited, but now is not the time to do so,” Duncan said repeatedly.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, proposed several amendments to help soften the cuts, and although every Democrat in the Senate signed them, the Republican-dominated Senate tabled each one.
“By saying no [to this amendment], we are saying that our priorities are to continue to allow corporate exemptions over the interests of funding public education in Texas,” West said.
Although Duncan’s bill passed in the Senate without the amendments, the House will revisit the bill this week and can make amendments on it.
The Senate also passed a bill from Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, which re-establishes the public school institutional materials allotment that allows schools to purchase technology such as iPads, pushing the classroom into the “new age.”
Shapiro said the bill focuses not just the delivery of the content, but the quality of the content itself.