The Brief: Texas Political News for Dec. 20, 2013

Jill Ramirez, the director of outreach for the Latino Healthcare Forum, passes out flyers and explains components of the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 5, 2013.
Jill Ramirez, the director of outreach for the Latino Healthcare Forum, passes out flyers and explains components of the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 5, 2013.

The Big Conversation

Health care navigators are back on the agenda with a hearing Friday morning in Austin on new rules being formulated by the state's insurance department.

Those rules, which were proposed earlier this month, go beyond federal training and certification requirements. They specify that navigators "undergo criminal background checks, comply with additional privacy training, and provide proof of identity and documentation that they complied with education requirements," as the Texas Tribune's Becca Aaronson wrote at the time.

Gov. Rick Perry had directed Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber in September to formulate the new rules to address what he believed were insufficient privacy protections in the federal navigator program. 

The authorization for the additional training and background checks came via Senate Bill 1795. The bill's author, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, told the Texas Department of Insurance in an informal hearing in September that "he feared legislation he authored to ensure navigators could effectively help Texans find coverage in the federal marketplace had been wrongly co-opted by Perry in an effort to derail implementation of the Affordable Care Act," Aaronson wrote.

The left-leaning social welfare group Texas Organizing Project sent out an advisory on Thursday that it planned to be at the 9 a.m. hearing at TDI headquarters in downtown Austin. The group then plans to meet at 1 p.m. at the office of Attorney General Greg Abbott in order "to discuss his solution to the millions without health coverage in Texas," per the advisory.

Culled

•    Lawmaker calls for investigation into TWIA after racist emails surfaced (Austin American-Statesman): "The chairman of the Texas House’s insurance committee called Thursday for an investigation — and possible termination — of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association following the discovery of racist emails from some of the organization’s top officials. Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, said offensive emails that came to light as part of a case between the quasi-governmental agency and the Brownsville Independent School District over unpaid claims were 'disturbing' and inappropriate."

•    Johnson Space Center might soon gain a powerful ally in Congress (Houston Chronicle): "Johnson Space Center's political fortunes are on the rise. This week, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, announced he would not run for re-election in 2014, and Houston Republican John Culberson is the odds-on favorite to replace him as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA."

•    More Than 368,000 Deported From U.S. in FY 2013 (The Texas Tribune): "The Obama administration on Thursday announced that it deported 368,644 undocumented immigrants from the country during the 2013 fiscal year. That's a decrease from the 409,849 removals during fiscal year 2012. But that didn’t stop advocates for immigration reform from immediately criticizing the president for his administration’s continued record-setting deportations."

•    GOP governor candidate sets aside opposition to gays for higher cause: secession (The Dallas Morning News): "Larry Kilgore has made God, gays and guns an important part of his campaign for governor, but his No. 1 issue is secession. Kilgore is so committed to the idea of having Texas leave the union that he legally changed his name – Larry SECEDE Kilgore. That’s the way he’ll appear on the ballot next March in the Texas Republican primary, where he is challenging front runner Greg Abbott for the GOP nomination."

Quote to Note: "He was someone who really had no interest in trying to protect the Johnson Space Center. That simply is not a legislative priority of Steve Stockman, and you're not going to get anyone who could be worse for Johnson Space Center." — Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, on one side effect of Congressman Stockman's decision not to run for re-election

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