The Temperature Rises: Abbott, Patrick Weigh in With Priorities
While the 88th session of the Texas Legislature has technically been going on for more than a month now, the first few weeks essentially are the time when lawmakers, the governor and the lieutenant governor preheat the oven.
Now, cooking time has finally begun.
After the House of Representatives doled out its committee assignments last week, setting the stage for a slew of hearings and maneuvering to get key bills on committee calendars, both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott brought the oven to its cooking temp, respectively releasing priorities for this session.
First, Lt. Gov. Patrick released his list of 30 priority bills – Senate Bills 1 through 30 – covering a wide range of topics, including ones on which the Texas Hospital Association will keep close watch. Most of the 30 bills are just a number and an informal title at this point. But intriguing to hospitals’ interest are the forthcoming Senate Bill 25, denoted in the lieutenant governor’s release as “Creating New Scholarships for Registered Nurses,” and Senate Bill 26, titled “Expanding Mental Health Care Beds Across Texas – Focus on Rural Counties.”
Then, Gov. Abbott’s State of the State address on Thursday stressed – among many other topics – the importance of boosting Texas’ workforce and infrastructure, two realms where hospitals and health care professionals are integral and inextricable. The governor mentioned a goal to ensure “every Texan is prepared to succeed in high-demand industries like technology, health care and energy.” THA will work tirelessly to see health care and hospitals aren’t forgotten in either the workforce conversation or the infrastructure one.
Gov. Abbott also released his list of seven emergency items, a designation that allows the Legislature to consider bills related to those topics on an expedited basis. One of those items that will be on THA’s radar: a vow to “end COVID restrictions forever” and bar governments from imposing either mask or COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
THA under oath: Workforce testimony
THA Assistant General Counsel Heather De La Garza, J.D., represented the association at Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, where the committee examined Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) programs and their funding levels in the proposed state budget for 2024-25.
Just as THA was broadly supportive of proposed funding for health care workforce programs in Finance Committee testimony the week before, De La Garza supported the funding levels Senate Bill 1 allocates for:
- Statewide apprenticeship funding ($33 million), which partially supplies dollars for the Health Care Registered Apprenticeship Initiative;
- The Skill Development Fund ($37.8 million); and
- The Jobs and Education for Texas Program ($30.7 million).
Referencing hospitals’ current workforce shortage struggles, De La Garza told lawmakers there’s no immediate fix, but “the sooner we start investing and implementing solutions, the better.”
The week ahead
Legislative committee watchers will have two opportunities Tuesday to see THA go to bat for hospitals on budget talks. De La Garza will testify on the other side of the Capitol on Tuesday, appearing before the House Committee on Appropriations to weigh in on higher education funding. Meanwhile, Jennifer Banda, J.D., THA’s vice president of advocacy and public policy, will appear before the Senate Finance Committee as it once again tackles the health and human services budget.