State Capital Highlights

By Ed Sterling

Texas waits for Senate agreement on disaster aid funding

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Dec. 21 released a statement applauding the U.S. House of Representatives’ preliminary passage of $81 billion in disaster aid to Texas, several other states and Puerto Rico.

Abbott called the House’s 251-169 vote in favor of the aid package “a step in the right direction” but added that “more needs to be done to ensure the funds Congress provides address the critical needs Texans are enduring from the largest natural disaster in our state’s history. We look forward to working with the Senate to improve the disaster funding to ensure it addresses the acute needs of Texans.”

The U.S. Senate went into recess on Dec. 22 without voting on disaster funding. The recess came after senators passed a continuing resolution to avoid a federal government shutdown for lack of a budget agreement.

‘1115 Waiver’ extended

Gov. Abbott on Dec. 21 announced that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reached a hospital funding agreement for the next five years.

“The new 1115 (Demonstration) Waiver ensures that funding will remain available for hospitals to treat and serve people across our state who are in need of top-quality healthcare,” Abbott said.

“We are a state that is committed to providing quality healthcare to our people,” added Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Charles Smith. “With this agreement, we will continue our innovative approach to providing healthcare to millions of Texas Medicaid clients. We’re committed to delivering a sustainable healthcare system over the long term while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Safety-net hospital administrators cheered the extension.

Section 1115 of the Social Security Act gives the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to approve state experimental, pilot or demonstration projects that better serve Medicaid populations.

AG gives gun opinion

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in an opinion released Dec. 21, said licensed handgun owners could carry loaded weapons into Texas churches that do not have posted signs banning weapons.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick requested the opinion on Dec. 1, asking Paxton to expedite his response “so that churches may know what legal options they have to improve security” in the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs tragedy, in which a lone gunman entered a church, killing 26 people and injured 20 others on Nov. 5.

“If a church decides to exclude the concealed or open carrying of handguns on the premises of church property, it may provide the requisite notice, thereby making it an offense for a license holder to carry a handgun on those premises,” wrote Paxton.

“However, churches may instead decide not to provide notice and to allow the carrying of handguns on their premises. Unless a church provides effective oral or written notice prohibiting the carrying of handguns on its property, a license holder may carry a handgun onto the premises of church property as the law allows,” Paxton added.

Unemployment rate falls

The Texas Workforce Commission on Dec. 22 announced the Lone Star State’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent, the lowest unemployment rate recorded in four decades.

Also, the Texas economy added 54,500 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in November and annual statewide employment growth increased to 2.7 percent in the month of November, marking 91 consecutive months of annual growth.

“The addition of 330,600 jobs over the year demonstrates the consistency with which employers in our state create job opportunities for the highly skilled Texas workforce,” said Texas Workforce Commission Chair Andres Alcantar.

Problem: Aging technology

The Office of the Comptroller, in its December-January issue of “Fiscal Notes,” examines our state government’s “aging information technology infrastructure and the challenges it faces in serving a population growing by nearly half a million residents a year.”

Some state agencies are running on archaic programming language dating back to the 1950s, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said. “Each year, the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars on maintaining these outdated systems, and updating or replacing them would cost even more,” Hegar added.

The state spends more than $300 million annually on maintaining older hardware and software that no longer are supported by their makers, according to an estimate made by the Texas Department of Information Resources.

The Fiscal Notes publication is available online at comptroller.texas.gov.

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