That’s a wrap: Major priorities passed, some opportunities missed


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas lawmakers from the top down heard one message loud and clear when they returned to the Capitol this January: do your job.

Instead of being derailed by divisive issues like who can use what bathroom, lawmakers came to the Capitol this session with a complex, but clear priorities: school finance and property tax reform.

How they see it — mission accomplished.  

“I’m ecstatic about the final product,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. “This is revolutionary. I’ve been wanting to do this since 2003 when I came here to testify against high property taxes. And we got it done because of teamwork.” 

Patrick said the coordinated effort between himself, Gov. Greg Abbott, Speaker of the Texas House, Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) and the entire legislative body allowed them to “reform 100 years of policy in 135 days.”

“It was all because we worked as a team, it wasn’t because any one person or the three of us all did it,” Patrick said. “It’s because of our staff, and it’s because of 181 legislators, 31 senators and 150 house members, everyone worked.”

But some legislation did not make the final cut. Time ran out for lawmakers to strike a deal to reform the eminent domain process in Texas.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s (R-Brenham) Senate Bill 421 which aimed to protect Texas land owners in eminent domain negations with private businesses stalled in conference committee.

This was the third consecutive session Kolkhorst filed eminent domain legislation, and the third time her efforts to improve the process for land owners failed. 

An effort by Democrats to expand the health care coverage of low income Texans through Medicaid, one of their top priorities of the session, failed in the Republican-controlled legislature. 

Freshman Rep. John Bucy (D-Cedar Park) authored the House bill to expand Medicaid in the Lone Star State. “It didn’t pass, but it got more support than it’s ever gotten,” Bucy said.

But that support did not transfer into funding, as lawmakers approved a final budget that cut spending to Medicaid by close to $900 million.

For one Texas lawmaker though, there was a more pressing public health issue that lawmakers failed to act on this session.

Texas has one of the most concerning maternal mortality rates in the country, with 14.6 per 100,000 live births. It’s even worse for African American women in Texas, who die at a rate of 27.8 per 100,000 births.

Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, was almost one of those statistics. She nearly died during childbirth from cardiac arrest from high-block epidural, after the anesthesia was injected too high in her spine. So instead of numbing her legs, she says it was paralyzing her heart.

Thierry’s experience inspired her to author two bills. 

One aimed to create a statewide maternal care data registry to help the state track data on maternal deaths and near misses. The registry would collect and store information from hospitals and other healthcare providers on maternal outcomes and link birth certificates to death certificates.

Right now, women who die more than 42 days after childbirth are not listed on the state’s maternal mortality list. Their cases are only included in a maternal task force study.  

But Thierry says the bill gave the state “a chance to prevent future mortalities,” never even made the House calendar after clearing the public health committee.

A second bill aimed to target what she called “implicit bias” affecting the maternal outcomes for African-American women, who Thierry says are dying at three times the rate of all other women.

“So, what the bill was going to do was authorize our colleges and universities to require cultural competency, implicit bias training in their medical schools,” Thierry says. “If those biases exist, that absolutely plays a factor in the disparities that we see in terms of the health outcomes for black moms.”

The legislation failed this time. But Thierry vowed to try again. “I will be back to push that issue,” she says.

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