News Roundup: Bipartisan Legislation In Texas Senate Aims To Stop ‘Surprise-Balance’ Medical Bills

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelApril 17, 2019 1:08 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

The Texas Senate has passed bipartisan measures aimed at stopping surprise medical billing. State Sen. Kelly Hancock, a North Texas Republican, described one of the two measures he authored, ahead of a vote Tuesday.

“Senate Bill 1264 protects patients from getting surprise-balance bills in medical situations when the patient does not have a choice who provides them with care,” Hancock said.

Hancock’s measure would force medical providers and health insurers to mediate payment disputes before they send bills to patients. He first announced plans for the legislation back in February, along with Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio.

Hancock’s legislation now heads to the Texas House where it will need to be passed before Gov. Greg Abbott can sign it into law.

State representatives gave initial and unanimous approval Tuesday to a bill aimed at tackling the state’s backlog of thousands of untested rape kits. The legislation would take a number of steps to address the backlog, such as requiring an audit of untested kits statewide. It would also create timelines for the submission, testing and analysis of newly collected kits. The bill’s author is state Rep. Victoria Neave, a Dallas Democrat. She described the need for this legislation, ahead of the vote.

“In Texas, we have thousands of rape kits sitting on shelves, waiting to be tested; we have thousands of survivors waiting for justice,” Neave said.

The bill is named for Lavinia Masters, who was raped when she was 13 years old by a man who broke into her home in the middle of the night. Her kit was left untested for 20 years; the statute of limitations is 10 years.

Gov. Greg Abbott praised the passage of the bill in the Texas House on Twitter, calling it “excellent news.”

Texas enrolls a higher percentage of students in preschool than most states, but it spends less money per student. That’s according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Texas Public Radio’s Camille Phillips reports.

Researchers say just nine states do a better job than Texas at providing access to preschool. Texas pays for half-day pre-K for almost half of the state’s 4-year-olds. But 34 states spent more per preschooler than Texas, last year. The national average was more than $5,100 per student; Texas spent $3,500.

Report co-author Steve Barnett says spending per student varies widely from state to state.

“Those are much, much bigger differences than you see for K-12,” [he said.]

Texas school districts could get more funding for early childhood education next year if state lawmakers pass school finance reform. The proposed bill would pay for full-day pre-K for most low-income 4-year-olds.

A new survey looks at the climate for small businesses in Texas and across the country. All 12 Federal Reserve banks in the United States, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, put together the annual report.

Overall, small businesses saw a strong end to 2018 but fewer firms expect to add new payroll jobs this year.

When it comes to small businesses in Texas the state stands out in a few areas. For one, it has a higher rate of minority-owned businesses compared to the national average. And, of course, everything is bigger in Texas: 34% of small firms report a desire to grow their business “much larger than its current size,” according to the survey results. That’s compared to the national average of 27%.