House Passes Bill to Address $4.5 Billion Medicaid IOU

House  Appropriations Chair, Rep. Jim Pitts R-Waxahachie with a big smile as he votes on House supplemental bill HB 10  on February 21st, 2013
House Appropriations Chair, Rep. Jim Pitts R-Waxahachie with a big smile as he votes on House supplemental bill HB 10 on February 21st, 2013

After bracing for a possible protracted debate over school funding, the Texas House unanimously passed an emergency supplemental bill Thursday in just 30 minutes.

House Bill 10 will spend $4.8 billion of the state’s general revenue, nearly all of it to address a shortfall in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program in the current budget. Lawmakers had purposely underfunded the programs last session with plans to make up the difference in 2013. The House passed the measure 148-0. Lawmakers then stood and applauded.

The bill is one of a package of supplemental measures state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie and the chamber’s lead budget writer, is working on to address IOUs in the current budget.

Pitts had been telling lawmakers for more than a week that the first supplemental bill qualified as an emergency and needed to be passed quickly to ensure that doctors and other health care workers are properly paid through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in August.

“It would also prohibit our constituents from getting the medical treatments they deserve,” Pitts said.

Along with $4.5 billion for Medicaid and CHIP, the bill also included $630 million to address IOUs in public education.

In order to consider the bill this early in the session, Pitts needed the support of four-fifths of the House. He ultimately received a unanimous vote in favor of bringing up the bill.

“Since I’ve been here over 20 years, we’ve never had to do this this early,” Pitts said.

Eight amendments were filed on the bill. One by Pitts that cleaned up some of the bill’s technical language was the only one to come up for a vote. It passed.

Supporters of the bill had worried that a vaguely worded amendment on school finance by State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would drag the debate out. Martinez Fischer had said he planned to release the amendment’s real language on the House floor and use it as a way for lawmakers to have a debate on school finance.

Pitts and Martinez Fischer are among a small bipartisan group that are working on putting money for public education into the current budget in an upcoming supplemental bill. On the House floor on Tuesday, Martinez Fischer opted to withdraw his amendment, citing “very sincere comments” by Pitts to work toward a school finance solution.

Earlier that morning, Martinez Fischer said he was undecided on whether he would continue with the amendment.

For most of the hour before the bill was brought to the floor, Pitts and Martinez Fischer were in a huddle with other lawmakers.

Martinez Fischer had likened the negotiations over his amendment to “war and peace.”

“We’ve got the peace pipe,” he said about an hour before withdrawing the amendment. “Now all we have to do is smoke it.”

State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, also withdrew an amendment that woud have required the Texas Education Agency to release answer keys to certain standardized tests later this year. Before withdrawing it, Strama told lawmakers that the amendment would help schools work with students who needed to take the test over.

Five other amendments that would have added spending to the bill were not considered because House members had voted last week to require that the bill be revenue-neutral.

Though his amendment to add $150 million to the bill to pay for school instruction materials and beefed up security didn’t get a vote, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, still urged all lawmakers to pass HB 10.

“I stand before you knowing that the amendment I was seeking providing security and funding for our schools will be addressed at a later point,” Herrero said.

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