Highlights from around the Capitol


Associated Press

Posted on January 17, 2013 at 7:02 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and a top lawmaker unveiled legislation Wednesday that they say will improve health care for the poor and disabled while fighting fraud, but they ruled out expanding Medicaid under an Obama administration effort to provide health care to 1.5 million uninsured poor people.

Dewhurst and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said her Senate Bill 7 would change how health care providers are paid to encourage quality of treatment over quantity or procedures, while redesigning long-term care for the profoundly disabled. Nelson said the state lost $6 billion in Medicaid fraud between 2004 and 2011 and her Senate Bill 8 would detect fraud earlier and more effectively punish those responsible.

"When you defraud the system, you are stealing from the taxpayers, children, the frail, the poor, the elderly and Texans with disabilities. It is crime against our most vulnerable citizens, and we have to change our approach to stopping it," Nelson said.

Medicaid is a joint state and federal program in which Washington provides roughly $2 for every $1 the state spends. In return, the state must follow federal regulations.

Dewhurst said health and human services have grown from being 20 percent of the state budget to 30 percent since 2003, and Medicaid costs have doubled. During that same period, though, Texas lawmakers have cut spending to other programs and federal lawmakers have expanded the number of services required under Medicaid.

As part of the Affordable Care Act designed to make sure all Americans have health insurance, the Obama administration has offered to pay Texas almost all of the costs of expanding Medicaid coverage to an additional 1.5 million to 2 million poor and uninsured people. Health care advocates almost universally support Medicaid expansion and some economists say it will financially benefit the state.

Gov. Rick Perry, though, has rejected the proposal saying it undermines states' rights, and Dewhurst on Wednesday reiterated his opposition.

"We carefully cover under Medicaid those populations that we feel need the help of the state and cannot care for themselves," Dewhurst said. "In 2003 we made a decision to exclude adults — able-bodied — who can go out and work, and that's the target population for Obamacare."



Gov. Rick Perry expressed outrage Wednesday at the president's plan to curb gun violence, saying he's "disgusted" by the "political left" using the Connecticut school massacre to push for greater restrictions on guns and that the Second Amendment trumps Barack Obama or any other president.

At a White House ceremony, Obama unveiled plans to press a reluctant Congress to pass universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used during the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last month.

He also used his presidential powers to enact 23 measures that don't require the backing of lawmakers. Obama's executive actions include ordering federal agencies to make more data available for background checks, appointing a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.

Perry's reaction came a short time later and was especially bombastic — even for a Republican governor who rarely shies away from strong language.

"The piling on by the political left, and their cohorts in the media, to use the massacre of little children to advance a pre-existing political agenda that would not have saved those children, disgusts me, personally," Perry said in a statement. "The Second Amendment to the Constitution is a basic right of free people and cannot be nor will it be abridged by the executive power of this or any other president."



An expert witness in the lawsuit over funding for Texas public schools testified Wednesday that more spending does not necessarily lead to better student performance.

Eric Hanushek, an education expert at Stanford University, said he does not see a correlation between per student spending and test results. He said he believes the real problem with public schools is a lack of efficiency.

"If we simply put more resources into schools and use it the way districts have been using it ... we should not expect higher achievement from students on average," Hanushek said. "We are wasting resources to the extent that we are spending on things that don't matter."

Hanushek is testifying in the final stage of a lawsuit brought by school districts against the state claiming the Legislature is not providing enough funding. Hanushek was called by conservative activists who argue that the problem is not money, but an inefficient public education system that needs overhaul.



Supporter of Texas state parks says the Legislature is short-changing the system by $12 million in its latest budget proposal.

The "Keep Texas Parks Open" campaign asked lawmakers on Wednesday to reconsider the amount of money they allotted for state parks, or see seven of them close down.

The group complains that lawmakers are diverting funds away from parks and using them for other purposes. The Legislature created the Sporting Good Tax in 1993 to provide a secure source of funds for the Texas parks system.

The Parks and Wildlife Department said it needed an $18.9 million increase in state funding, but the draft budget proposal released in the Senate only increased parks spending by $6.9 million. Parks advocates note the Sporting Good Tax will grow by $18 million.



"If the Sporting Goods Sales Tax was used for its intended purpose we would not be facing this dilemma." — Ian Davis, director of the Keep Texas Parks Open campaign, on the Senate's budget bill failing to fully fund Texas Parks and Wildlife, which could lead the department to shut down state parks.