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The Brief: Oct. 2, 2015

The head of the Health and Human Services Commission announced that he will preserve access to care even if it means the state doesn't achieve the full $100 million in budgeted savings to the program.

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The Big Conversation

It's looking now like the state might not fully implement $100 million in cuts over two years to therapists providing services to children in the Medicaid program.

In a letter Thursday to Senate leaders, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor wrote that he interpreted instructions written into the state budget to mean that children should not lose access to care.

“HHSC will continue its efforts to achieve the maximum therapy rate reductions possible while maintaining adequate access to care,” Traylor wrote in the Thursday letter, as reported by the Tribune's Edgar Walters. “Even though this direction will not result in the full amount of savings identified in Rider 50 and will result in spending levels above appropriations, I am confident that the state can achieve meaningful Medicaid savings, while preserving adequate access to care.”

This interpretation, as Walters noted, runs counter to what the state's lawyers said in court in a legal challenge to those rate cuts. They said then that Traylor was obligated to make the full cuts called for in the budget.

The court challenge was brought by therapy providers who feared the rate cuts would cause many of them to go out of business and by parents who feared losing access to services. Increasingly, lawmakers were also urging caution to avoid harming children.

Traylor's letter comes a day after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, defended the cuts although, as Walters writes, the lawmakers "in doing so told Traylor he had 'the flexibility to strive for achieving $100 million savings in Medicaid therapy services while preserving access to services.'”

Trib Must Reads

In Texas, Injured Workers Struggle to Be Counted, by Jim Malewitz – On any given day across Texas, truck drivers might crash their vehicles, construction workers tumble from scaffolding or refinery workers inhale nauseating fumes. Many of those injuries will go unreported  — as if they never happened. But what is written down about workplace injuries is more than just scorekeeping. 

Analysis: Texas Voter Preferences by Political District, by Ross Ramsey – As the political season starts in Texas, a look — based on the results in past general elections — at how the state's congressional and statehouse districts stack up for the candidates from both parties. 

Lawmaker Mulling Hearing on Juvenile Justice, by Johnathan Silver – State Sen. John Whitmire might call a hearing and seek leadership changes at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department after multiple reports of youths fighting, climbing onto rooftops and running away from staff in large numbers at youth correctional facilities.

McCaul, Vela Praise Extradition of Alleged Criminals, by Julián Aguilar – A pair of Texas congressmen who lambasted the Mexican government after the embarrassing July escape of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán lauded Mexico on Thursday for extraditing 13 alleged criminals to the United States.

CEO: Drawing Toyota to Texas Worth $40 Million Subsidy, by Aman Batheja – A $40 million state incentive package was one of many reasons Toyota agreed to move its headquarters to Plano, company CEO Jim Lentz said Thursday. Yet absent the subsidy, picking Texas would have been a "real tough sell."

DPS Chief Calls Harassment Claims "Garbage", by Julián Aguilar – The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday said it was absurd that some border residents claim state troopers are harassing residents during the ongoing border surge in the Rio Grande Valley.

EPA Tightens Ozone Limits — But Less Than Expected, by Jim Malewitz – Determined to cut down on smog that chokes the nation’s skies, the Obama administration finalized new limits on ozone. But the limits are weaker than some had hoped, suggesting that fierce critics like Texas had some effect on the outcome. 

Campus Carry Opponents Wage New Battle, by Matthew Watkins – Gun control supporters may have lost the fight to keep handguns off college campuses, but now some are pressuring administrators to create as many gun-free zones as possible.  

Texas To Factor Into Clinton Push For Latino Voter, by Patrick Svitek – Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is ramping up her outreach to Hispanic voters, and Texas is playing a prominent role in the coming push. 

The Day Ahead

•    Gov. Greg Abbott will host a reception for the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Association of School Boards at the Governor's Mansion at 2 p.m.. The reception is in honor of Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year.

Elsewhere

Texas, top state for executions, may go a year without a death penalty conviction, Reuters 

Ted Cruz seeks to harness new weapon in 2016 money race: Small-dollar bundlers, The Washington Post

Dan Patrick to UT System: Don’t discuss ways to raise tuition, The Dallas Morning News

4 Dallas-area relatives accused of faking mental illness, The Associated Press

UH may have violated open meetings law with vote on chancellor contractHouston Chronicle

Poll: Texans coming around to pot, gay marriage and still deeply in love with football, The Dallas Morning News

At 'Checkpoint Of The Stars,' Texas Sheriff Takes A Pass On Pot CasesNPR

New public website involves officer shootings in Texas, The Associated Press 

Texas businesses to Jeb Hensarling: You’re killing us, The Dallas Morning News

Is Ted Cruz Defining Politics Down?The New Yorker 

Quote to Note

“When we talk to them, they give the impression they’re doing so well with Hispanics: ‘Oh Hispanics love me,’ and I think that’s, at best, out of touch with reality."

Ammar Campa-Najjar, communication director for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Donald Trump's relationship with the Hispanic community. Trump is scheduled to talk with the group next Thursday in what will surely not be an easy conversation.

Today in TribTalk

Threat to shut down government over abortion was misguided, by Joe Pojman – Calling for or even considering a federal government shutdown over the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood is a strategy that never would’ve worked. Better options exist for curbing abortion nationally, like those we’ve taken in Texas.

News From Home

•    Tune in for the latest episode of The Ticket, a co-production of the Tribune and KUT. Jay Root and Ben Philpott talk religion and the 2016 race with Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches and WPLN reporter Chas Sisk

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation on Criminal Justice: The Next Five Years on Oct. 6 in Huntsville

•    A Conversation on God & Governing on Oct. 7 in Austin

•    The Texas Tribune Festival on Oct. 16-18 at the University of Texas at Austin

•   The Texas Tribune Trivia Night  on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. in Austin

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