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Dan Patrick Asks Senators to Study Fetal Tissue, Panama Canal

Fetal tissue used for scientific research tops the list of topics Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked Texas senators on the Health and Human Services Committee to study before the Legislature reconvenes in 2017.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during a June 4, 2015 Tribune Conversation

Fetal tissue used for scientific research tops the list of topics Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked Texas senators on the Health and Human Services Committee to study before the Legislature reconvenes in 2017.

And lawmakers on the Transportation Committee are to study effects of the recent Panama Canal expansion on Texas’ trade infrastructure and make recommendations about how to fund the state's department of transportation, Patrick said Tuesday.

“As good citizens, it is our job to help protect those that are most vulnerable, including the unborn, foster children, and the elderly,” he said of the health and human services charges. He also stressed that traffic congestion had “plagued” the state.

They're the latest in a series of topics Patrick has asked state senators to study. The others include controversial tax credit scholarships for "school choice" and the expansion of charter schools. Patrick said the final round of interim charges would be released Wednesday.

Fetal tissue donation has been in the news in recent months after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, released undercover videos alleging that Planned Parenthood abortion providers are illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Patrick said he wanted state senators to “make recommendations on the use of fetal tissue provided for research purposes and how related laws governing abortion procedures are interpreted and enforced.”

Planned Parenthood officials have condemned the videos, saying they were heavily edited to mislead the public about how abortion clinics may, with a patient’s permission, donate fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood centers in Texas do not currently donate tissue for medical research, according to the organization, and selling fetal tissue is already illegal. Shortly before Patrick's announcement, Planned Parenthood announced its clinics in other states would no longer accept reimbursement associated with donating tissue, for things like transportation costs — a practice the organization says was legal.

"Moving forward, the Texas Legislature will continue to evaluate what additional steps can be taken to protect the sanctity of life and prevent these kinds of abhorrent practices from being repeated in the future," said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Republican of Georgetown and the health committee's chair, in a statement.

Patrick asked senators on that committee to study the impact of the state’s 1115 Medicaid waiver, a 5-year, $29 billion pot of money that is set to expire next year. Texas has asked the federal government to renew that money, which reimburses safety-net hospitals for treating uninsured patients. The Obama administration has indicated it could cut off much of that funding, saying it would be better used to offer poor Texans health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

He also asked senators to consider how to reduce recurring cases of child abuse and neglect and to study a recent increase in children with severe trauma or mental illness in the state's foster care system. Other topics for lawmakers to research include expanding access to telemedicine, or technologically aided remote health care, and to review the state’s refugee resettlement program to see how the state can “reduce its burden” to fund services.

On transportation, Patrick asked senators to “evaluate the necessity” of the Driver Responsibility Program, a system of surcharges that funds trauma centers but which critics have called an unfair penalty on the poor for traffic violations. He also asked for lawmakers to recommend how to reduce the number of inspections Texas vehicles must undergo.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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