The 82nd Legislative session got off to a somewhat gloomy start Tuesday. After the budget projections issued on Monday by the Comptroller, the mood was not exactly bright. As the reality sets in upon everyone, the work yet to be done in the next 139 days seems overwhelming. Yet there was optimism among the members of both houses and affirmation of a desire to work out reasonable solutions to the economic issues that plague all states across the nation.
The House re-elected Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio to preside over the session after other candidates withdrew their names from consideration with a recorded vote of 132 to 15.
In his address to the House, Straus said, “I’ll do my best to empower members so that they can do what is right for their constituents and the people of Texas. I know that in recent weeks, members of the House have withstood threats, harassment and attempts at intimidation because of the fair and respectful way in which you want this House to operate. Division, threats of retribution, attacks on people’s religious beliefs, distortions of people’s records, have no place in this House.”
Straus said that the legislature should seek to “rebuild trust by the way we treat others,” to set high ethical standards and to make Texas government live within its means. He challenged the House to a “spirit of boldness” and reminded everyone that “men who exist get overrun by those who act.”
Galveston County’s own State Representative Larry Taylor guided the state GOP House caucus toward a peaceful resolution of conflicting opinions in the Speaker’s race as well as a number of other issues. As chairman of the House Republican Caucus, Taylor manages much of the “behind the scenes” work for the majority party. His quiet but firm hand provides a strong leadership presence that many fail to appreciate unless they are intimately involved in the process.
Meanwhile, in the Senate Chamber, Senator Steve Ogden was elected by his colleagues as the President Pro Tem of the Senate. Speaking about the budget challenge Ogden said, “We can get the job done. It will not be easy. It will not be painless. But we can do it.” Ogden also mentioned public education funding and the state’s Medicaid program, saying, “It is impossible to balance the budget without making cuts …” Ogden implied that both public school funding and entitlement programs were both in need of major legislative reform efforts.
Governor Rick Perry issued an executive order for the Legislature to take priority action on sanctuary cities and personal property rights (eminent domain). Legislation on these items would have to occur within the first 30 days of the session.
Over the next week both houses will confirm their rules for operations, committee assignments will be made, and a version of the proposed budget will be released by the House and by the Senate. Bills will be filed, hearings will be scheduled, and the process will move forward at an alarmingly fast pace.
UTMB has its legislative agenda focused on four primary goals for the 82nd session:
(1) Maintenance of UTMB’s base General Revenue (GR) to support operations of its clinical programs and schools
(2) Continued access to the $150 million Ike Recovery funds appropriated in the 81st Session for campus recovery
(3) Debt service for the $150 million Tuition Revenue Bond passed in the 81st Session for the construction of the proposed Jennie Sealy Replacement Tower, and
(4) A revised contract for Correctional Health Care Services which limits UTMB’s financial losses in that program
UTMB will also focus on the health care regulatory items that impact delivery of care to patients, the funding of state Medicaid programs, health professions workforce initiatives, and a host of related health care reform topics.