May 18, 2011

Budget Good News/Bad News Dance Continues in Austin

TMA Legislative News Hotline

Wednesday, May 18, 2011




State Comptroller Susan Combs

BUDGET WATCH
Budget conferees received some good news yesterday from Comptroller Susan Combs. She added $1.2 billion to her state revenue estimate, making that much more money available for the 2012-13 budget. These dollars, along with money created from the nontax revenue bills — better known as the “state fiscal matter” bills — are critical to helping balance the budget. Exactly how much money budget writers can count on from Senate bills 1811 and 1581, the state fiscal matter bills, will be determined in the Texas House today. SB 1811 could create $2.5 to $4 billion in nontax revenue. It all depends on which provisions are approved.

House members have a long, hard day ahead. More than 200 amendments have been filed for SBs 1811 and 1581. For example, TMA and members of the Texas Public Health Coalition are trying to keep an amendment off SB 1811 that would lower the tax on chewing tobacco. Another would repeal school-based fitness measurements and coordinated school health education from Texas schools. However, some amendments are good, such as those increasing taxes on tobacco products, placing additional requirements on facilities that allow smoking, providing tobacco cessation coverage for state employees, and maintaining Texas’ poison control centers.

Today is a critical one for the budget process. If the House doesn’t pass the fiscal matter bills, then the budget likely will have to be settled in a special session. Stay tuned.


Erika Sweggler, MD
 TMA TESTIFIES
Immunizations: Erica Swegler, MD, a Keller family medicine physician and chair of TMA’s Committee on Infectious Diseases, testified in support of SB 1177. The TMA-supported legislation by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Rep. John Zerwas, MD (R-Simonton), would require health care facilities such as hospitals to develop and implement vaccination policies for employees. Dr. Swegler told House Public Health Committee members that SB 1177 is important because health care workers, especially those who are not immunized against the flu and other preventable diseases, may unknowingly spread these diseases to the patients in their care. The bill was left pending.

Newborn hearing screening: Alice Gong, MD, a San Antonio neonatal-perinatal specialist and a member of TMA’s Committee on Maternal and Perinatal Health, took the witness stand before the House Public Health Committee. Dr. Gong, a professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, testified this morning in support of SB 229 by Senator Nelson. She told committee members that the legislation would help guarantee that all babies born in Texas have equal access to an important hearing screening. The bill was left pending.

Food safety: TMA submitted a letter in support of SB 1301 by Sen. Robert Deuell, MD (R-Greenville). The legislation would require that a bitter-tasting substance be added to antifreeze products that contain ethylene glycol. The goal is to deter children from drinking these poisonous products. The bill was taken up today in the House Public Health Committee. No action was taken on the measure.

PHYSICIAN OF THE DAY
The physician of the day at the capitol is Love D. Paul, MD, of Austin. Dr. Paul has practiced family medicine for 32 years. He graduated from the Government Medical College Maharishi in India in 1976. Dr. Paul is a member of TMA and the Travis County Medical Society.

WHAT WE'RE READING
Overshadowed, Med Schools Face Drastic Reductions (Texas Tribune)
Rick Perry Presidential Push Quietly Gains Steam
(Real Clear Politics)
$1.2 billion in additional revenue available for Texas budget
(Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Confusion Over Texas Fiscal Bills Leads to Delay
(Texas Tribune)
Most litigants unaffected by 'loser pays' reforms (Houston Chronicle)

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