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Summer 99 Table of Contents
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Overview of 76th Legislature From TCB Perspective

By Ken Whalen, Coordinator of Intergovernmental Affairs

The good news from the 76th session of the Texas Legislature is that services the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) provides to blind Texans will be maintained at or above the current levels. While TCB did not get everything it wanted in dealing with the Sunset process and securing state funding, it was a successful session overall.

Following is a look at legislation that will affect the agency most over the next two-year cycle.

HB2641 -- HHSC Sunset Bill

The bill to continue the operations of the Health and Human Services Commission represents a sea of change in the administration of health and human services agencies in Texas. HB2641 gives the HHSC commissioner control over the administrative functions of 12 state agencies that represent a third of the state's workforce.

The delivery of services will likely not be affected by this legislation, which is an attempt to improve efficiencies and cooperation between the HHS agencies. The commissioner will have control over key business functions that include purchasing, technology resources, administrative support, and accounting.

The first step for each HHS agency is to enter into memoranda of understanding between the commissioner and the agency board and the commissioner and the agency executive director. Those memoranda will determine how much control the commissioner exerts over the agency's business functions.

HB1400 --TCB Sunset Bill

HB1400 continues TCB for another 12 years while incorporating changes suggested by the Sunset staff and agency staff. Medicaid case management and rate-setting are two areas that deal with service delivery that are affected by the bill. TCB will be required to emphasize Medicaid eligibility of consumers and use Medicaid guidelines is setting rates. The bill also requires the agency to formalize its service delivery policies by rule. The agency recommended changes like allowing background checks of potential employees, assuring the confidentiality of children's program files, and establishing the Business Enterprise Program retirement program as a trust fund. These changes were adopted in the bill.

HB2 -- General Appropriations Act

TCB's overall budget, which includes state and federal funds, was increased from $42.4 million in '98-'99 to $48.4 million in the coming biennium. The employee cap was also raised from 610.5 to 618.5.

Most of the budget increase comes from receiving more federal funds, increases of $250,000 over current levels in both the Independent Living and Children's programs, and funds from the Blindness Education, Screening and Treatment Program. BEST funds, which are generated through a $1 donation when renewing a drivers license, are projected to total $1.9 million.

HB633 -- Transfer of Assistive Technology

This bill will allow students in public schools to take their assistive technology devices with them when they transfer between school districts. Currently, these devices, such as computers and accompanying software, belong to the district. The Texas Education Agency will write rules for the sale, lease, loan or gift of the device.

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Last Revision: September 4, 2003