Meanwhile…back at the Capitol

The word “interim” comes from the Latin word for “meanwhile.” Many of us are looking ahead to the winter holidays, but meanwhile the gears are turning as lawmakers prepare for the 2017 legislative session.

The interim charges that Senate and House committees will discuss in the coming months offer a preview of the policy debates to come. We should all follow the interim discussions closely, as the health, education, and financial security of millions of Texans are at stake.

There are several promising interim charges – and some alarming ones – that focus on priority policy areas here at CPPP. Here are just some of the highlights:

Health and Wellness:

Access to health insurance, quality physical and mental health care, and good nutrition are core building blocks to achieving overall wellness.

It’s good to see a new House Select Committee on Mental Health, which will take a comprehensive look at how to improve the mental health system in Texas. From suicides in county jails to monitoring the implementation of a new peer support pilot program that CPPP championed, we look forward to robust, bipartisan discussions about how to improve services and increase efficiency in the mental health system.

The House Appropriations Committee will look at Medicaid, though focusing on “caseload and costs” would miss the big picture. We hope discussion of the 1115 waiver renewal will allow Texas officials to consider bringing in an annual $6 billion or more in federal health dollars, instead of losing $1 billion in waiver funds as a direct result of their inaction to date.

We’ll be actively involved in interim charges related to the recently enacted law that helps protect Texans from surprise medical bills. SB 481 was a good first step kickstarted by CPPP’s groundbreaking research, and we look forward to discussing implementation of the new law and next steps to better protect consumers.

Economic Opportunity

Texas has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, with about one in six Texans living in poverty, and shamefully, one in four Texas children. Disparities in poverty are particularly pronounced for women and people of color.

Education is the best pathway out of poverty, and it’s a potentially good sign that the House Appropriations and House Public Education committees will review elements of the school finance formulas and the mechanisms that support public education in Texas. With the Texas Supreme Court currently weighing the constitutionality of our inadequate school finance system, CPPP plans to raise important concerns about our obligation to educate future generations.

We are excited about House interim charges focused on how education and workforce partnerships can help get students through their education and into a career. And our long-standing work studying the high cost of college will certainly become part of the discussion around keeping student debt under control.

Interim charges related to immigrants and refugees are back, including a number of misguided discussions that claim immigrants are threats rather than recognizing and welcoming their essential economic contributions to the state. From attacks on so-called “sanctuary cities” to xenophobic debates about the status of refugees in Texas, the immigration debates will require the type of data and cool-headedness CPPP brings to any discussion.

Investments in Texas

The services we rely on – like emergency assistance during floods and fires – benefit from local and state public investments and revenue.

At the end of the 2015 legislative session, CPPP warned that we had unnecessarily dug our state into a bigger financial hole going into the 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions. Through corporate giveaways and short-sighted tax cuts that make a negligible difference in family budgets, the legislature further limited our ability to support schools, hospitals, and other priority state services.

The interim charges from the Senate and House appear to return to that poisoned well, considering more tax cuts for businesses and spending restrictions that would limit lawmakers’ ability to make smart investments for the future. To ensure that families and businesses can thrive, corporations need to pay their fair share. We need top-notch schools and health care, not overcrowded classrooms and fewer rural hospitals.

I hope everyone enjoys spending quality time with family and friends over the holidays. Then let’s remind our elected leaders, during the interim hearings and beyond, that we want Texas to be the best state for hard-working people and their families.

At the Center for Public Policy Priorities, we believe in a Texas that offers everyone the chance to compete and succeed in life. We envision a Texas where everyone is healthy, well-educated, and financially secure. We want the best Texas - a proud state that sets the bar nationally by expanding opportunity for all. CPPP is an independent public policy organization that uses data and analysis to advocate for solutions that enable Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential. We dare Texas to be the best state for hard-working people and their families.

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