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TX Lege Leaders Set Children's Policy Priorities Through Interim Charges

Contributor: 
Texans Care for Children

This week we got a view into the policy priorities for the 2019 Texas legislative session as the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor announced “interim charges,” the policy issues that legislative committees will study and hold hearings on over the next year. Speaker Joe Straus announced charges for the House, including several new charges related to Hurricane Harvey, while Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released two batches of charges for Senate committees (here and here) to add to his previous announcement of hurricane-related charges.

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While the Speaker later announced the bombshell news that he’s not running for reelection, the work of the committees over the next year will set the stage for the 2019 session.

We were pleased to see legislative leaders recognize that there’s more work to do on several children’s issues that were on the agenda during the 2017 legislative session, including therapies for kids with disabilities; strengthening child abuse prevention and foster care; children's mental health and trauma-informed care; healthy pregnancies and the high rate of maternal deaths in Texas; and the state's outdated policy of sending 17-year-olds to the adult criminal justice system no matter how minor their crime.

We’re also glad to see both leaders make clear that the Legislature needs to thoughtfully address substance use issues, including opioids. The Speaker created a new House committee on the subject and the Lt. Governor issued an extensive interim charge on the topic. We at Texans Care for Children are in the midst of holding a three-part discussion series on the effects of substance use on children and families, the ways Texas responds, and the unmet need for substance use prevention and treatment services. These discussions should help inform conversations at the Legislature.

We should note we were disappointed that there are no interim charges explicitly addressing pre-k or high-quality child care. When possible, we encourage legislators during this interim to include early childhood education in discussions about education funding, workforce gaps, and children’s trauma and mental health.

Several hearings, particularly those related to Hurricane Harvey, have already taken place or been scheduled. If you would like to receive alerts about hearings scheduled by particular committees, you can sign up here.

Here are some of the key children’s issues included in the interim charges and the committees that will be studying the issue:

  • Early Childhood Intervention and Medicaid rate cuts for therapies for children with disabilities: Two charges for the House Appropriations Committee

  • CPS, foster care, and prevention of child abuse and neglect: Several charges for the House Human Services Committee and Senate Health and Human Services Committee in addition to charges for the House Public Health Committee, House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, House Appropriations Committee, and Senate Finance Committee

  • Children’s mental health and trauma-informed care: House Human Services Committee, House Public Health Committee (including a review of the role of TEA and Education Service Centers), House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, and House Public Education Committee (through monitoring of cyber-bullying and school mental health legislation, SB 179, passed during the 2017 legislative session)

  • Maternal mortality and women’s health: House Public Health Committee and Senate Health and Human Services Committee

  • 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system: House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee and House Corrections Committee

  • Juvenile justice funding, including diverting youth from the system and keeping them closer to home: House Appropriations Committee

  • Substance use: Several charges for the House Select Committee on the Substance Abuse and Opioids and one each for the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, House Public Health Committee, and House Human Services Committee

  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) renewal and federal health care proposals: House Appropriations Committee

  • STAR Health, STAR Kids, and Medicaid managed care: House Committee on Appropriations, House Human Services, and Senate Health and Human Services

  • Youth physical fitness: Senate Veterans Affairs and Border Security Committee

  • Student discipline: Senate Education Committee

 We look forward to working with legislators and stakeholders on these critical issues over the next year.