80th Texas Legislative Session Wraps Up
June 1, 2007
With the 80th Texas Legislative Session's close on May 28, Governor Rick Perry now has until June 17 to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature. This summer, Hogg Foundation Associate Director Lynda Frost and Program Officer Debbie Berndt will work with Mental Health Policy and Law Clerk Melissa Cook to review and analyze newly passed legislation and reforms that impact mental health. The Foundation will publish a summary of their work in its biennial publication, Legislative Update.
Some of the critical issues debated by Texas lawmakers this session that will be addressed in the Legislative Update include increased funding for crisis services in the public mental health system, restoration of the Children's Health Insurance Program, reforms to the Medicaid program, insurance coverage of mental disorders, and improvements in the juvenile justice system.
Funding for the public mental health system to increase the state's capacity to provide critical emergency crisis services was a major budget issue considered by lawmakers this session. The Texas Department of State Health Services requested over $82 million as an exceptional item to begin developing a comprehensive system of mental health crisis and crisis prevention services desperately needed in communities throughout the state. Lack of adequate funding for mental health crisis services has resulted in increased emergency room visits, increased population levels in jails and juvenile detention centers, and in the overuse of law enforcement officers to transport people with mental illness, sometimes hundreds of miles, to a state hospital.
Increasing enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was a major priority for many legislators. Cuts made to the program in 2003 resulted in a drop in CHIP enrollment from 507,259 that year to 291,530 in 2006. This session, legislators sought to reinstate longer coverage periods, loosen eligibility requirements, and remove the 60-day waiting period to enroll in the program.
If passed, these measures would help restore enrollment to pre- 2003 levels and ensure that more children receive needed physical and mental health treatment.
Legislators also worked to improve health care by reforming the state Medicaid program. Proposed changes would cut the costs of the program by reducing medical problems through the promotion of healthier lifestyles and discouraging emergency room visits when other options are available.
The reforms would also allow federal dollars to be used to help Medicaid recipients obtain private health coverage. These changes would affect the many individuals with mental illnesses who currently receive treatment through the Medicaid program. Although efforts to create parity in health insurance coverage for mental disorders have seen little success in past Texas legislative sessions, legislators this session proposed bills that would require insurance providers already offering some form of coverage for mental health to make that coverage equal to that offered for physical health. There would be no mandate for those plans not already covering mental health to begin doing so.
On the national level, the U.S. Congress is currently considering the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007, which calls for an expansion of the existing 1996 federal law prohibiting employers and health plans from inflicting treatment and other financial limits on mental health benefits unless the limits apply to all other medical conditions.
Another major issue during this session was the alleged sexual abuse occurring within the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and the lack of agency response.
Lawmakers considered sweeping reforms to TYC, including increased funding for local juvenile probation services aimed at decreasing the number of youth commitments to TYC. In 2006, 41% of all juveniles committed to TYC were identified as having serious mental health problems.
Juveniles with mental illness may have difficulties successfully meeting probation and parole requirements in their community without access to proper services. According to TYC data, almost half of all the commitments made to TYC are for probation revocations.
Increased funding for local juvenile probation services may assist juveniles in successfully completing probation in their community by providing them with needed services, including mental health treatment.