Day 1 (Tuesday, Jan. 8)

With a backdrop of cold, gray, rainy skies, the Texas 83rd Legislature got under way on Jan. 8. Right away, a long-anticipated challenge for the Speaker of the House position evaporated as a lone competitor withdrew from consideration. A quick line of nominations and seconds propelled Speaker Joe Straus (San Antonio) back into that leadership role by acclamation (and without a roll call vote). 

The 83rd Legislature is a changed institution demographically. It is home to 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats in the House; compared to last session when the Republicans held a 101 supermajority, this year’s membership will require a lot more discussion and inter-party work. It is also a “new” House, with almost 50 percent of its members having served one term or less.

Over in the Senate, there was a 20 percent turnover ending with 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. The Senate has a host of new key committee chairmen in areas such as Higher Education, State Affairs, Finance and Education, among others. 

One gets a dramatic view of the changes that have occurred in the Texas political landscape when comparing the Texas Legislature from 1987 to that of 2013:

 

 

1987

2013

Republicans

67

114

Democrats

114

67

Women

18

37

Hispanics

24

37

African Americans

13

18

Rural White Democrats

56

1

White Democrats

83

10

 

This new face of Texas has convened to tackle a diverse group of problems on a stage set with affirmational economic news from State Comptroller Susan Combs. She announced on Monday that the Legislature will have at least $101.4 billion at their disposal to craft the state’s next biennial budget, along with about $11.8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund. All indicators also point to Texas’ economy being among the strongest in the United States. In fact, if Texas were a nation, its economy would rank 14th in the entire world.

State leadership, including the Governor, Lt Governor and Speaker, have consolidated their priorities for the session with a focus on expanding the Texas economy and employment, education (public schools and higher education), transportation and water resources. Also high on most agendas is the topic of health care services.

UTMB’s legislative agenda this year will focus on the future of our educational, research and clinical missions. It is our hope that the bulk of our FEMA funding issues are behind us and that we will be able to focus on those issues that permit us to build a healthier future for our students, patients, faculty and staff. Therefore, we will focus on growth in formula funding support for our health education programs in all of our schools, in our infrastructure and in research. We will also ask the legislature to move our hospital’s funding from the General Revenue category into a formula like that at both MD Anderson and UT Health System Tyler. Because our hospital funding was not in the formula category last session, we were subjected to higher reductions in funding than were our sister institutions. In short, we are asking for equity in our hospital funding for the future.

UTMB has seen a major increase in students, especially in the School of Nursing and the School of Health Professions; UTMB has 500 more students this year than it did four years ago. This growth warrants continued investment in our physical plan in the form of an inter-professional educational building. We will request a $40 million Tuition Revenue Bond to cover half those costs, with the other half coming from philanthropy through our capital campaign. 

Scientific research at UTMB holds great promise not only for the cure of disease and improvement of health, but also for the stimulation of technology transfer and growth in health services. UTMB will seek Exceptional Item funding for the following:

  1. The Trans-Texas Vaccine Center will focus on the development of promising vaccines for the treatment of both chronic and infectious diseases. Working with collaborators from other medical schools across the state and Texas A&M’s Vaccine Manufacturing Center, UTMB would lead a multidisciplinary consortium to aggressively develop preventive therapies for leading threats to health in Texas and beyond.
  2. UTMB’s Regenerative Medicine program will target treatment of traumatic brain injury by providing matching funds for the recent gift from the Moody Foundation to support development of new treatments for acute and chronic TBI using novel drugs in conjunction with stem cell therapies.
  3. Emerging infectious disease research will also be an area of focus, including work on a universal flu vaccine, multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, and other recently emerging infectious diseases affecting the United States.

Looking ahead, the Senate and House have just released their initial versions of the state budget. The Senate will go into hearings by the end of January to critically assess the Legislative Appropriations Requests from all state agencies. In the House, committees will soon be appointed by Speaker Straus and the process of budget review will also be initiated there. In the meantime, UTMB—like all state agencies—is analyzing the initial budgets.

Stay tuned! 

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2 Responses to Day 1 (Tuesday, Jan. 8)

  1. Cissy Yoes says:

    Nice job.

  2. David Marshall says:

    Thanks for keeping us plugged in with your blog, Dr. Raimer!

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