Legislative Message

February 2021

Theresa Q. Tran, MD, MBA, FACEP
Chair, Government Relations Committee

Interested in what’s going on at the State Capitol? Well, this update is for you!

It’s hard to believe that a month has passed since the 87th Texas Legislative Session began on January 12.

Though the Capitol halls and offices are quieter than usual this year, the Legislature has been busy. Our lobbyists at Imperium Public Affairs and I are communicating daily to keep our fingers on the pulse of the session, in order to best serve TCEP’s members and their patients. Here’s a brief rundown of what has happened so far:

The House elected a new Speaker, Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont). Senate and House Committee assignments were announced, giving us a better understanding of the politics behind our targeted policies. Gov. Abbott gave the biennial State of the State address, where he announced five emergency items that he wants legislators to act on quickly. Additionally, we have witnessed Texas legislators filing bills at a faster rate than they were doing in 2019.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released a list of Senate committee assignments in mid-January, revealing committees that are very similar to those that were in place last session. Pertinent to us, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) remains chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, and there are two new members on the committee: Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and freshman Sen. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso). Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), who carried surprise billing legislation last session, keeps his position as chair of the Business and Commerce Committee and Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) is the new face on the committee.

Speaker Phelan announced the House committee assignments on February 4. This task required appointing chairs, vice chairs and members to 34 standing committees: 21 chairs are Republicans and 14 are Democrats. Physicians in the House did well in terms of chairmanships: Dr. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), a neurosurgeon, was appointed chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee and Dr. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress), an anesthesiologist, was promoted from Vice-Chair to Chair of the Insurance Committee. Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Ft. Worth), a former registered nurse and now a nursing consultant, is the new chair of the Public Health Committee.

Legislators are prohibited from voting on bills during the first 60 days of the session unless they are designated as emergency items by the governor. When bills fail to pass, it is often due to a lack of time for discussion. As you can imagine, in a legislative session that lasts only 140 days every two years, bills that fall under designated emergency items have a significant advantage. Gov. Greg Abbott announced emergency items during his State of the State address that encompass five categories of legislation. Two of the emergency items most important to emergency medicine are providing civil liability protections for individuals, businesses, and healthcare providers that operated safely during the pandemic, and the expansion of broadband access in Texas.

At the time of writing, nearly 2,500 bills have been filed and we know that number will continue to grow as we move toward the filing deadline on March 12, 2021. At this time, only Senate Finance, Senate Redistricting, and House Appropriations have hearings, and the only testimony that has been accepted virtually is for Senate Redistricting. Senate Finance is solely focused on the appropriations bill, which is the only bill that the Texas Constitution requires legislators to pass during the session. Chair Bonnen has announced that the House Appropriations committee will start their hearings on February 15. From a process standpoint, we are waiting on the House and Senate to refer bills to various committees of jurisdiction, through which we will seek opportunities to give input as needed.

The TCEP Board has approved three legislative agenda items: surprise billing, prior authorization and prudent layperson standard, and scope of practice. In addition to these priority items, we remain flexible to pivot our attention to pertinent issues as they arise, such as telehealth, tort reform, and opioids. TCEP’s Government Relations Committee (GRC) will be meeting regularly over the course of the session to evaluate bills and engage where appropriate to ensure legislators and their staff have a clear understanding of the emergency physician’s perspective on a broad range of topics that are brought to the table.

If you are interested in any specific legislative items or have issues, comments, or questions, please send them to [email protected].

Now entering my second legislative session as your GRC Chair, I can’t thank you enough for your continued trust in our team and your support of our advocacy work. Remember, “Everything happens for a reason!”

Theresa Q. Tran, MD, MBA, FACEP
Chair, Government Relations Committee