This week, we have a Texas Capitol Roundup from our Peer Policy Fellow, Reggie Smith. Follow him on Twitter at @regnrecovery.
The 85th Legislative Session has gotten off to a tumultuous start. Immigration, bathroom bills and budget cuts are all hot topics on the agenda this session. However, several mental health and substance use bills have been filed and there exists the potential for some very important legislation to come out of this session. Every so often, I will be on the CforR blog giving you a look inside the Capitol, updating you on current legislation, hearings and other political goings on from the perspective of a policy wonk that is in long-term recovery. I’ll also provide you with issue insights and calls to action so you can make your voice heard by your Legislature. Let’s get started!
There are several bills focusing on jails and mental health that are seen as pieces of a broader and more comprehensive bill being referred to as The Sandra Bland Act. State Representative Garnet Coleman (D) District 147 has taken the lead on this legislation and most likely to sponsor it in the House. On the recovery front, Rep. Four Price (R) District 87 has filed a Peer Support Specialist bill. House Bill 1486 would codify Certified Peer Specialist and Peer Recovery Specialist within Texas Health and Human Services, establishing reimbursement, clarifying roles and expanding access to peer services in Texas. There are also a few harm reduction bills addressing syringe disposal and exchange, suicide prevention and a possible Good Samaritan bill in the offing. I will update you on harm reduction measures in the coming months.
The Texas Legislature convenes biennially so every two years for 140 days the Lege, as it is more affectionately known, meets to pass legislation. Hundreds of bills are filed each session but only a very small percentage of those bills actually become law. The only bill that is constitutionally mandated to pass each session is the State Biennial Budget. Budget bills are generally the first bills filed by both sides of the Legislature, Senate and House. A Conference Committee reconciles the House and Senate bills and this amended version is voted on and passed by both sides of the Legislature, if not, the Governor calls a Special Session and the House will stay in session until the budget bill has passed. That’s not very popular with legislators!
All that is to say that the budget is a very important component of the legislative process, especially this session. In 2016, the Governor’s Office asked for an across the board 4% cut to all state agencies. Child Protective Services, mental health programs and border security were exempt from these cuts. However, in January the State Comptroller announced a 2.7% decrease in available funds for this session. That means that there are less funds available to cover an even greater need than last session. This is why your voice is so important! You can start by letting some key legislators know why increased access to peer support is important to you. Here are two legislators you can call this week if you support HB 1468, Sen. Schwertner at (512) 463-0105 and Sen. Nelson at (512) 463-0112. If you live in either of these Senators’ districts, be sure to let them know. They love hearing from constituents. Peace!