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Texas Press Association State Capital Highlights
Senate Panel Addresses Slowness of VA Care
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 • Posted June 19, 2014

AUSTIN — On June 12, the state Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations met in Pasadena, Texas, to get input from military veterans in the wake of the records falsification scandal at U.S. Veterans Affairs-run facilities.

Also on June 12, Gov. Rick Perry recommended that slow service at VA facilities be remedied by allowing veterans to get health care needs met at non-VA facilities. Several health care provider groups responded, expressing interest in expanding health care options to veterans, the governor’s office stated.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who chairs the Senate committee, has recommended the creation of a hotline “to help Texas veterans deal with long wait times and VA bureaucracy.”

After the hearing in Pasadena, Van de Putte stated, “While our reality is that the VA is a federally run and funded agency that serves Texas residents, that does not mean that Texas cannot ensure our veterans are taken care of in the honorable way they deserve and have earned. Ultimately, Washington needs to fix the VA’s problems, but in the meantime, Texas will focus on the immediate crisis: Getting medical care to our heroes.”

EPA plan to be reviewed

Federal carbon emissions rules proposed last month will be reviewed by the Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulation, Speaker Joe Straus said June 11.

The Obama administration’s plan, to be administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationally by 30 percent, as compared to 2005 levels, by 2030. Because individual states may have to reduce more than 30 percent in order for the country as a whole to meet that threshold, Texas faces a reduction of 39 percent, Straus said.

“It’s important for legislators to understand the potential impact of this federal mandate, not only on the cost and availability of electricity, but also on the broader Texas economy,” Straus said. “The committee’s work will guide the House’s approach to this issue in next year’s legislative session and the seriousness of these proposed rules demands that we start working on that approach soon.”

“The House will work with a range of stakeholders to make sure that Texas responds to these regulations in a prudent and responsible way,” Straus added.

Border aid is requested

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on June 12 requested $30 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “to deploy state resources to the Texas border immediately.”

“The request comes amid Border Patrol officers reporting a 92 percent spike in minors being apprehended at the border. The influx of child immigrants has so overwhelmed the U.S. Border Patrol that federal agents are devoting time and resources to the humanitarian aspects of the influx, and are not available to secure the border and successfully stop criminal activity,” Abbott stated in a news release.

A sentence in the letter explains: “The $30 million requested is only two percent of the amount of aid the President is asking Congress to appropriate in temporary aid to deal with the consequences of the porous border.”

Drought status is renewed

Gov. Perry on June 9 extended by 30 days the emergency disaster proclamation he initiated on July 5, 2011. The proclamation certifies that exceptional drought conditions pose a threat of imminent disaster in 166 of the state’s 254 counties. “All rules and regulations that may inhibit or prevent prompt response to this threat are suspended for the duration of the state of disaster,” as stated in the proclamation.

Sales tax revenue goes up

State sales tax revenue in May was $2.45 billion, up 8.5 percent compared to May 2013, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs announced June 11.

Retail and wholesale trade sectors, the oil and natural gas mining sector and the services sector led the growth, Combs said. The comptroller will send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts their June local sales tax allocations totaling $621.5 million, up 11.6 percent compared to June 2013.

“This marks the 50th consecutive month of increased state sales tax revenues, and brings the fiscal year-to-date growth to 5.4 percent,” she noted.

Toll billing changes to come

TxTag billing services will have “new and improved account access and payment options” for toll road users, Texas Department of Transportation announced June 9. “The new system is expected to be fully implemented by mid-summer,” TxDOT stated.

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