State of Texas: New items, same problems as second special legislative session begins

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — One day before the end of the first special legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott called for a second special session, adding new priority items for lawmakers to work through.

There are seventeen items on the agenda for this special session, six more than the previous one. Some of the new items include creating uniform business regulations, adjusting the requirements to have enough members to vote on legislation and updates to statewide education policies relating to the coronavirus.

The Chair of the House Republican Caucus said these new items reflect the changes that have occurred in Texas over the past month.

“This delta variant is a real issue across Texas, I want to make sure that we’ve got the ability to respond to that. Those are conditions that have changed since the last call. The Democrats should want to be here to help solve those problems,” said State Rep. John Murphy, R-Houston.

However, some of the most controversial priorities from the previous session are still on the agenda. Gov. Abbott still wants lawmakers to address critical race theory and transgender student athletes. Also, House Bill 3, a Republican-led measure to tighten voting rules, remains on the agenda even though it caused Democrats to break quorum at the beginning of the last special session which prevented any legislation from being passed.

“This is nothing more than yet another red meat session,” State Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, asserted. “He [Abbott] has interlaced some other things in there to make it seem as if either he thinks the Democrats are dumb and thinks he’s trying to do us a favor, or he just wants to say the Democrats don’t care about COVID.”

Rep. Crockett is referring to the several items on the agenda which could receive bipartisan support – a 13th check for retired teachers, property tax fixes and dating violence prevention education.

Still, some Democrats said they will not return from D.C. until the needle has been moved on federal voting legislation to preempt Texas’ HB 3. 

State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, stated that he would “love nothing more than to come back to the state Capitol and get to work with my Republican colleagues to solve real problems that real Texan’s face. But instead, Gov. Abbott has announced a special session that is filled with conspiracy theories.”

Crockett expressed her belief that the second special session would be stalled by a lack of quorum in the Texas House. “I do anticipate that there will not be a quorum, but I can’t say what the next person is going to do, I can only tell you what I’m going to do. And that is that I’m not going to show up and give him a quorum for him to continue the terror that he started in our original session,” she said. The Democratic representative elaborated that she thinks, “some may be surprised by our next moves. I’m pretty excited for the surprises that that may be coming. But we’re continuing to fight. We’re still in this.”

This political battle is happening during the midst of a surge of the COVID-19 delta variant.

State health officials have said that this could be the worst wave of the pandemic to date, with the seven-day average of new cases up 92% from the previous week according to data released Wednesday by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Hospitalizations and deaths are also rising statewide.

The state’s epidemiologist said anyone who is not vaccinated should wear a mask in public – including children – and health leaders are urging everyone to get the COVID vaccine.

State leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, are also urging their constituents to get vaccinated.

State Rep. Greg Bonnen – a physician – explained the importance of vaccines Tuesday during a joint press conference of Senate and House Republicans.

“The bottom line is, for people that are hesitant or anxious about being immunized, you only have two choices – you’ll either become infected or you’ll become immunized. The virus is eventually going to affect everyone in the population,” claimed Bonnen.

Bonnen further emphasized that the best way to end the pandemic is to vaccinate most Americans.

“It appears that what we’re seeing now, with respect to the increase in hospitalizations, is those people who have not been immunized are becoming infected. Some of them are getting sick enough to have to be admitted to the hospital. Those who’ve been immunized, and frankly, most of those who have previously had the infection and recovered, either have mild or no symptoms whatsoever,” Bonnen added.

Gov. Abbott is encouraging Texans to get the vaccine, even as he vows to prevent state and local leaders from implementing mask mandates or COVID restrictions on businesses.

“The surest way to end the pandemic is for everyone who wants one to make sure they get the vaccine,” the governor said Wednesday in Dallas while addressing a trade group.

“That said, going forward – in Texas, there will not be any government-imposed shutdowns or mask mandates,” he continued. “Everyone already knows what to do. Everyone can voluntarily implement the mandates that are safest for them for their families and for their businesses,” he concluded.

Late last month, the governor issued an executive order that makes it harder for local governments and school districts to enact new COVID-19 restrictions. It eliminated the order that previously allowed local officials to impose business restrictions if their area reached a threshold of 15% COVID hospitalizations.

Lawmakers get involved as Longhorns plan move to SEC

A major shakeup has occurred in the realm of college football, one so big that you might have heard of it even if you aren’t a football fan. The announcement that the University of Texas and Oklahoma University will be moving from the Big 12 athletic conference to the Southeastern Conference, known as the SEC, is more than just a sports story – it is a big money battle with a multimillion-dollar impact on the state.

This switch will likely bring a big financial boost to the Longhorns. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the SEC paid each member school 45.5 million dollars as part of its revenue distribution agreement. By comparison, the Big 12 paid each school about eight million dollars less.

A major part of the revenue conferences share comes from broadcast rights for football. SEC teams play in some of the most-watched games on television.

In the last regular season, the SEC had two of the top three most-watched games. The Big 12’s most-popular game was the Red River Showdown between UT and OU. That came in at number 14 on the most-watched list.

Even though this decision will help UT, it is controversial because it will lead to a loss of revenue for the universities still a part of the Big 12, such as Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU.

Further, Texas towns which rely on their universities to help fund their economy, like Lubbock and Waco, could feel a negative impact due to change. This has Texas lawmakers exploring what role they should play in this move – and over future athletic decisions made by public universities in the state.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick created the Senate Select Committee on the Future of College Sports in Texas. The committee met for the first time Monday to study the athletic and economic impact to Texas schools and communities by the Longhorns’ decision to find a new home in the SEC.

The committee heard a lot of testimony critical of UT’s decision. Some committee members added their own critiques of the Longhorns.

“If you’re [UT] as big and great as you think you are, you should have made the Big 12 equal or better than the SEC, and you didn’t do it,” said State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst added in some football stats to emphasize that UT isn’t better than their Big 12 competition.

“3-7 against the Horned Frogs, so maybe your fan base would rather lose to Alabama than TCU,” said the senator.

However, State Sen. John Whitmire had a different take and questioned why lawmakers needed to get involved in the first place.

“One thing I would say to everyone, where was everyone’s passion when A&M picked up and left without asking the legislature? What the hell’s going on here that A&M did exactly what UT’s doing. We didn’t have a hearing. We didn’t hear the outcry from the communities,” pointed out Whitmire.

In response to UT’s decision, State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, filed legislation to require legislative approval before a public senior college or university can change membership in a collegiate athletic conference. His bill had 40 co-authors as of Monday, and a companion bill was filed in the Senate.

While Burrows’ bill may have extensive support, there are roadblocks to that legislation becoming reality anytime soon – the issue is not on the governor’s special session agenda. That means it’s unlikely to have a chance to pass before the next regular legislative session in 2023.

Helping families find answers about memory care

All over Sharon Butler’s home are pieces of her mother: sketches, paintings, a tiny sculpture carved out of soap. She has memories of her mother, Dorothy, making art as far back as she can remember, but one oil painting, in particular, holds a poignant place in her heart.

“She never quite put the detail into it that she would have,” Butler explained, pointing out certain spots on the canvas.

While working on this landscape in a painting class, Dorothy had a stroke that affected her body and mind. She spent time in the intensive care unit, before being diagnosed with vascular dementia and eventually with Alzheimer’s disease.

At the time, Butler was just 25-years-old.

“It was extremely traumatic,” Butler described.


Sharon Butler holds a painting her mother was working on when she had a stroke. It shows a landscape
Sharon Butler’s mother had a stroke while in a painting class that altered her mind and her daughter’s life. (KXAN Photo/Sharon Butler)

She said her mother never gave up on creating art, but Butler watched as she traded original art for craft kits and paint-by-number sets.

“Her personality and her life changed so much that I never really knew her as a mother and grandmother — as she would have been — and that was hard.”

SHARON BUTLER, WHOSE MOTHER IS DIAGNOSED WITH VASCULAR DEMENTIA AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

Butler’s parents first moved into the independent living portion of a senior living community in Midland. Several years in, Butler hired someone to help them run errands. Eventually, they made the difficult decision to move into assisted living closer to her in the Austin area.

“If it had just been mom, she would have had to go into a memory care facility,” she said. “Her safety was an issue. We couldn’t let her in the kitchen to do anything. She would forget to lock doors.”

MORE: FDA approves first Alzheimer’s drug in nearly 20 years despite controversy 

Over the years, Butler helped make the same decision for her mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, as well.

“She would get really frustrated trying to use the remote control or the telephone — just things we all take for granted every day,” Butler said of the challenges her mother-in-law faced as the disease took hold.


		Sharon Butler, pictured with her mother (right) and mother-in-law (left) when the women were in assisted living in the Austin area. (Courtesy Sharon Butler)
Sharon Butler, pictured with her mother (right) and mother-in-law (left) when the women were in assisted living in the Austin area. (Courtesy: Sharon Butler)

Then, in 2019, Butler helped her aunt choose a senior living home too.

“It’s always difficult,” she said. “I think the hardest thing is when the parent or the spouse doesn’t really understand what’s happening. Because it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s going to be difficult. As much as you’d like for them to participate in the decision — and we’d like for them to do that — but it’s just not possible.”

That wasn’t the case for every one of Butler’s family members, but it’s a situation she sees often in the caregiving support group she now leads in Austin for other people having to make these tough decisions.

“They can say anything. They can cuss; they can cry; they can scream; they can laugh,” she described. “It’s not like getting married or having a baby where you do all the research and you get ready and prepared and informed — nobody wants to know about this until they have to.”

What is ‘memory care? ‘

Melissa Sanchez and Sydney Thomas, policy advocates with the Alzheimer’s Association, told KXAN decisions about where to move your loved one become “even more difficult” with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis because these individuals require extremely specialized care.

FULL COVERAGE: KXAN investigates Texas long-term care facilities 

The women said a dementia diagnosis is more than just “forgetfulness” that can often come with the aging process. Experts have identified hundreds of different types of dementia, but according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s national research, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, accounting for as much as 80% of all dementia cases.

“Ultimately, your brain stops telling your body to breathe and your heart to beat. So, it’s really just a totally different set of services and care that’s required 24/7,” Thomas explained.

Sanchez and Thomas worry that sometimes marketing for different types of memory care can be misleading for families, as they wade through difficult decisions about where to place their loved ones.

“Despite many facilities advertising themselves as providing “memory care” services, many settings are not adequately staffed, trained or designed physically to meet the unique care needs of those with Alzheimer’s.”

MELISSA SANCHEZ, TEXAS PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR AT ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION

That’s one of the main reasons they fought for a law this past legislative session to provide more transparency for prospective long-term care residents and their families.

The state of Texas currently offers a special Alzheimer’s certification for facilities that meet additional safety, design, staffing and training requirements. The certification also requires families and facilities to work together to build a service plan unique to each resident.


A description of the additional requirements for long-term care facilities to receive an Alzheimer's certification for a portion or all of their beds in Texas
A description of the additional requirements for long-term care facilities to receive an Alzheimer’s certification for a portion or all of their beds in Texas

Data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which regulates long-term care facilities such as assisted living and nursing homes, showed over 600 of the state’s more than 2,000 assisted living facilities had at least a portion of their total number of beds meeting the additional qualifications — that’s nearly two-thirds of Texas assisted living facilities.

MORE: Research looks for possible COVID tie to later Alzheimer’s

For skilled nursing facilities, there were far fewer: only 34 homes had some or all of their beds Alzheimer’s-certified.

Meanwhile, other facilities across the state market levels of memory care in their advertising or online. KXAN investigators found at least a dozen assisted living facilities with zero Alzheimer’s-certified beds that contained the term “memory care” in their name.

KXAN investigators mapped the long-term care facilities in Texas with beds certified to serve Alzheimer’s patients, using data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

“It could just mean that they have locked facilities. It could mean that they have even more requirements, but the term isn’t specific,” Sanchez said. “It’s important to note that there aren’t any statutory requirements for facilities that market themselves as a memory care facility or offering memory care services.”

It’s an important distinction for these advocates because they say families often get confused about what level of care their loved one will receive.

Under the Texas Health and Safety code, facilities are required to mention their certification as a part of a lengthy disclosure statement regarding the treatment and care they provide to residents.

However, State Rep. Mary Perez, D-Pasadena, said she had been hearing from constituents who still had concerns about what the different labels and levels of memory care meant. She first raised the issue in the 2019 legislative session, but her office didn’t see enough traction until this year after she brought legislation forward to instead require facilities “to prepare and distribute to each facility resident and to each person applying for services from the facility or the person’s next of kin or guardian a written notice disclosing
whether or not the facility has such certification.”

“Prior to this bill, it was really just a line item that a family member, hopefully, luckily, would catch as they’re going through the vast amount of paperwork that is required of, you know, putting a loved one in a facility. So, this will just be an explicit paper on whether they’re certified and what that means.”

SYDNEY THOMAS, ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION

Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, brought forth the companion piece of legislation, Senate Bill 383, that ultimately passed. Gov. Greg Abbott signed it on June 14 and will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2021.

Thomas and Sanchez said the change will ultimately improve how they are able to hold facilities accountable.

“That way, as families are flipping through the forms, it’s something that’s clear and easily available for them,” Sanchez explained.

At an April hearing where Rep. Perez’ bill was being discussed, the President and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association, Kevin Warren, testified in April that cost was likely the biggest hurdle that facilities face to getting certified.

“It’s a pretty extensive list of responsibilities,” he said. “The state of Texas doesn’t pay for that higher level of care. The state of Texas says, “Regardless of whether you are certified or not, we are still going to provide the same level of care as it relates to a Medicaid patient.”

That added cost, experts say, can often be passed down to the resident or their family.


		A photo of Sharon Butler's parents. (Courtesy Sharon Butler)
A photo of Sharon Butler’s parents. (Courtesy Sharon Butler)

After years of supporting other caregivers as they find a place for their loved ones, Sharon Butler can attest, “memory care carries more dollars with it.”

She said, in her experience, not every long-term care resident needs the highest level of memory care.

“It does help to know what you are dealing with before you start looking, and it also helps to start looking before you actually need it,” she said. “So, you really need to do your research, ask a lot of questions and visit as much as you can. Visit at off-hours. Go on the weekends.”

Is there a need for a separate “memory care” certification or designation, with more requirements than a standard facility but less than the current Alzheimer’s-certification? The chair of the House Human Services Committee, Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, brought up that point at the legislative hearing in April.

The Alzheimer’s Association believes that could be the next step toward clearing up confusion for Texas families.

Their association would like to see a more defined legal definition for the term “memory care” as a whole, and they have looked to Florida as an example. According to that state’s Bureau of Health Facility Regulation, facilities that advertise special care for persons with any type of dementia must meet additional requirements.


		KXAN investigator Avery Travis speaks with two advocates from the Alzheimer's Association. (KXAN Photo)
KXAN investigator Avery Travis speaks with two advocates from the Alzheimer’s Association. (KXAN Photo)

“We are going to look to potentially codify or clarify in statute, how memory carriers use the term memory care, memory care services, to really minimize the confusion for families and reduce the stress that these families are already dealing with,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said they will do their best to work with the long-term care industry to take these costs into account and find a feasible solution.

Still, she insisted that “quality of care for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia cannot come at that expense — cannot come at the cost — of what might be burdensome for nursing homes and facilities.”

Silverado Barton Springs is one of the Austin-area facilities with the most Alzheimer’s-certified beds. Michelle Neumann, its Senior Administrator Specialist, said it can be difficult to explain how the certification actually sets them apart from other facilities.

“Every month we are introducing a new type of training. It does take quite a bit, and a lot of places just won’t go that extra step,” she said.

Neumann described how disappointing it can be to know that a few facilities may be adding confusion and stress for families during an already vulnerable time when they’re considering a long-term care home.

“Any place that is wheeling and dealing is not your place,” she said. “If they offer discounts, then you better expect there will be discounts in care, food quality or decreased staffing. 

She told KXAN that in addition to environmental design considerations and staffing levels, they also have to show that their associates understand the different types of dementia and how to interact with those residents. Plus, they have to pay a fee owed and pass a health inspection. She knows not every person dealing with memory loss needs all of these specialized services.

“The general public is still confused about the terminology. So, hopefully, with the new bills that are coming out, it will help educate the public,” she said.

Neumann had some additional tips for families looking for a home for their loved one, especially with multiple diagnoses:

 Ask about 24-hour on-site nurses

 Ask about levels of care for any future diagnoses or declines in condition

 Ask to meet with multiple members of their team, not just a marketer

 Work with an independent Geriatric Care Manager to find the right placement

“With dementia, it will never be about the ‘real estate’ or the view or the size of the bedroom, it must be about the ability of the associates to engage them in living life to the fullest each and every day!” Neumann told KXAN.

 Use the Alzheimer’s Association’s Community Resource Finder

 For the 24/7 free Helpline, call 800-272-3900

 Explore resources from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission on Alzheimer’s disease

 Find information on Texas long-term care facilities

Texas kids are watching as state leaders shape policy

As one special legislative session wraps and another begins, state leaders are keeping the watchful eye of Texas kids in mind as they craft policy for the future.

The monument on the north Capitol grounds depicting schoolchildren on a field trip to the Capitol, consisting of four students gazing up at the historic building, embodies the reminder that Texas kids are paying attention.

This group of young people can be seen from the floor of the Texas House — watching as lawmakers debate the future of education, argue energy policy and while legislators draw battle lines over voting rights.

“I hope that my kid and every Texas kid takes from this how critical the freedom to vote is, I hope they take from it that our democracy is worthy of protection and that this next generation, who shows all signs of being the most progressive and politically engaged generation in history, will take that mantle on and help reinvigorate democracy here in the United States and Texas,” State Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, said in a Zoom call this week.

That concept of carrying the torch resonates with members of both parties, regardless of ideology or the topic at the forefront of discussion.

“For kids out there, know — work as hard as you can, get involved, get active and engaged in this process. And then however it shakes out, you know, consequences come from that, but be active and involved in the process,” State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said.

As the Voting Rights Act of 1965 turns 56-years-old, Luci Baines Johnson reflected on being a child of politics and having a front seat to history.

“I was able to stand behind my father and see the world changed forever,” she recalled.

Her father, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on her seventeenth birthday.

“I knew that my parents, who had very purpose-driven lives, were doing it for me, for my children, for my grandchildren,” she said.

“Luci Baines Johnson just reminded us that not only was she a political kid, her dad was a political kid in the Texas Legislature while his father served, and so I think we’ve seen the results of children being at the frontlines of this fight, they care, they get engaged, and they keep making progress,” said Zwiener.

These moments in history are unfolding in front of the faces of Texas children, which may lead some of them to want to spend more time at the Capitol. And maybe they’ll run for office and make decisions for their kids, as a new group watches in the wings.

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