LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

By Ginger Simonson

January 23, 2021

The 87th session of the Texas Legislature kicked off on 12 January. Things seem to be moving slowly as leaders figured out how to operate in a pandemic environment.  However, both the Senate and House laid out their initial budget proposals – both coming in around $119.7 billion and both about $7B over the current revenue stream projected by Comptroller, Glenn Hegar. The Legislature will find ways to pass a balanced budget by the end of the session, as required by the Texas Constitution.
 

One of the other important issues that the Texas Senate addressed was committee membership.  I was pleased to see Senator Donna Campbell reinstalled as the chair. Senator Campbell is a military & first responder "brat" and has been a major legislative champion for Veterans. I think they are a great group: a number are Veterans themselves and several others have worked on advocating for Veterans Mental Health issues and criminal justice reform. I've attached the profiles of all the committee members on our MOAA website. The House has yet to release committee assignments and neither chamber has any Veteran related committee meetings posted on the Texas Legislative Online website as of 22 January.
 

As of 22 January, legislators have introduced over 1760 bills and passed 7.  One of the bills that is worthy of support is HB 408 which expands opportunities for Veterans to get into Veterans Treatment Court Programs. You can read the bill’s contents here -  https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=HB408.
 

Another bill I believe is worthy of strong support is HB 1092, filed by Representative Romero, Tarrant County. You can read it here - https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=HB1092 
 

The intent of the bill is for jails to do a better job of identifying incarcerated Veterans and allowing them to get peer and claims support so they can receive the benefits they earned.  I was involved with several members of the Military Veteran Peer Network who gave a presentation on Justice Involved Veterans to Rep. Romero’s Legislative Manager and we are all appreciative of their efforts to improve the lives of Veterans and their families in Texas. You can view a copy of the presentation we gave on our MOAA website.
 

Take a look at the updated spreadsheet on our MOAA website to see all bills that relate to Veterans issues In Texas. Check here for updates.

 

What’s Up in Congress

 

At the federal level, proceedings are in a bit of a flux in the Senate as leaders work through a power-sharing agreement necessitated by a fifty-fifty split in the number of Democratic versus Republican members.  The good news is that the Senate has confirmed a number of President Biden’s Cabinet and staff picks. They approved President Biden’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, paving the way for retired General Lloyd Austin to make history as the nation’s first Black secretary of Defense.

 

And that brings me to this month’s legislative action items.  Presumably due to membership changes in Congress because of recent elections, the official MOAA website has not yet set up the automatic email feature that sends advocacy requests to our elected representatives.  However, MOAA has laid out our National Legislative Priorities. I’ve listed them below. For a complete run-down on each one, go to - https://www.moaa.org/content/publications-and-media/news-articles/2020-news-articles/advocacy/moaas-2021-legislative-priorities/

  • Recognize the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed the Landscape for Many of Our Priorities

  • Protect the Value of the Military Health Care Benefit

  • Protect the MHS Pharmacy Benefit and Achieve Flexibility in TRICARE Pharmacy Copays

  • Address Barriers to Accessing Care Within the MHS, Including TRICARE Coverage Gaps and Mental Health Care Access Challenges

  • Achieve Concurrent Receipt of Service-Earned Retirement Pay and VA Disability Pay

  • Protect Family Support Programs, and Ensure Military-Provided Services (Housing, PCS, Child Care) Are Affordable, Readily Available, and Meet Quality Standards

  • Reform the Presumptive Process to Support Veterans Claiming Service-Connected Disabilities for Toxic Exposures

  • Achieve Equity of Benefits, Protections and Administrative Support for Guard/Reserve Members Consistent with Their Active-Duty Counterparts

  • Sustain Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Foundational Missions and Services

  • Protect Arlington National Cemetery as an Option for Those Currently Eligible to Receive Full Military Honors, Through Expansion of Our National Cemetery

  • Sustain Pay Raises for Servicemembers and COLA Raises for Retirees

  • Improve Survivor Benefits

  • Ensure the Coast Guard Receives Pay During a Government Shutdown