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Local state senator's bills focus on health care - The Eagle: News

Local state senator's bills focus on health care

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Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:11 am, Wed Mar 13, 2013.

Charles Schwertner, who represents Bryan and College Station in the state Senate, has his sights set on the health care industry in the ongoing legislative session.

Nearly half of the bills authored this session by the freshman Republican from Georgetown relate to medical care.

Schwertner, an orthopedic surgeon by trade, authored 27 bills, 28 resolutions and was an additional primary author on seven bills and four resolutions. The filing period ended Friday.

On the last day of filing, Schwertner introduced Senate Bill 1808 and Senate Joint Resolution 61, which aim to lower county or hospital district taxes if Texas expands Medicaid coverage under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The measures call for an amendment to the Texas Constitution, by way of a statewide referendum, that would direct state agencies to assess the amount of money paid out by the federal government and lower local tax rates accordingly.

The move would essentially disallow counties or hospital districts from extracting the same amount of taxes if the federal government picks up more local health care costs under the affordable care act.

"I still feel strongly that accepting any expansion of our current Medicaid program would be very ill-advised," Schwertner said in an emailed statement to The Eagle. "The current system is broken and unsustainable. However, if the federal government were to provide Texas with the flexibility to design a Texas-based Medicaid system that's right for our citizens solution, I believe it's only prudent that we look at passing along those savings to Texas taxpayers."

Schwertner said the bills would end "double taxation" which could be created if Texas opts in to Medicaid expansion. Still, the Republican lawmaker made clear that he opposes any expansion of Medicaid in its current form.

"Ultimately, we're talking about our own federal tax dollars -- taxes we already pay -- that would be used to alleviate these expenses," Schwertner said. "If this is really about reducing costs and saving people money, then it makes absolutely no sense for Texans to be taxed twice for the same services."

It's unclear what reception the freshly filed bills have received from state lobbies. A spokesman for the Texas Association of Counties said the organization has not received feedback yet from its members and does not have a stance on the bill.

Another Schwertner bill that has garnered media attention is Senate Bill 955, which would fund free, voluntary mental health first aid training for Texas teachers. The measure, Schwertner said, was inspired by the Newtown elementary school massacre and aims to equip educators to identify mental health issues and direct children to appropriate care providers.

The use of telemedicine in level-four trauma facilities in rural counties would be permitted under Senate Bill 830. The facilities require the physical presence of specialized physicians, but the bill would allow medical services to be provided digitally by an on-call physician.

"SB 830 will provide rural Texas hospitals greater flexibility in their operations and will allow many rural patients to seek the expertise of highly-trained specialists that they wouldn't otherwise have access to," Schwertner said.

The number of disabled veterans eligible for hunting and fishing license fee waivers would increase if Schertner's Senate Bill 982 becomes law. Currently, veterans who are disabled below the waist are eligible for fee waivers, and Schwertner's bill clarifies the language to include those injured above the waist.

"As the son of a decorated veteran, I've always held a deep respect for those who've served our nation in uniform," Schwertner said. "This bill is a small token of appreciation for the sacrifice these wounded warriors have made, and in my opinion, it's the least we can do to say thanks."

A companion bill to Rep. Marsha Farney's House Bill 773 would require students at an open-enrollment charter school to recite the pledges of allegiance to the U.S. and Texas flags.

The area senator, like most representatives of Brazos County, had praise for Texas A&M star quarterback Johnny Manziel. Senate Resolution 6 honored the Heisman Trophy winner.

Schwertner also had high praise for another Texas treasure: pecan pie. He authored a resolution to designate the dessert as the official state pie of Texas. Schwertner authored the bill after being lobbied by elementary school children who discovered that Texas, unlike many other states, did not have an official pie.

"I am really proud of these young students for researching the way the Legislature works, and coming to me with this idea," Schwertner said. "This is not so much about the pie, but about getting our young people involved in the political process at an early age. Not enough young people are interested in the political process these days, and I hope this resolution can serve to show these kids that if they work hard and get involved, they're capable of changing this state and changing the world."

Still, the legislator acknowledged that the treat was one of his favorites.

"Pecan pie is actually my favorite," he said. "I usually eat it with Blue Bell ice cream on top."

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