May 5, 2003
Elderly and poor still vulnerable in state budget cuts
___By Ken Camp
___Texas Baptist Communications
___AUSTIN--The Texas Senate approved a $117.7 billion budget for the next two years that would take away prescription drug coverage from more than 200,000 Texans and cut other health-care benefits for the poor.
___The House, which already has approved its own budget proposal, was expected to reject the Senate version. That would result in Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick naming a conference committee to reconcile the differences.
___In a 25-5 vote April 29, the Senate approved a budget that cuts spending for health and human services instead of raising taxes, a move that drew a stern word of rebuke from the former lieutenant governor.
___"I wish I could say I was proud of this product. I can't say it. I don't think it's worthy of the great state of Texas," said Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1997 to
"Do we want the reputation of being the state with the least compassion? Do we believe we can ignore the needs of children now without paying for that in the future?"
___ Phil Strickland
___Ratliff, who reluctantly voted for the budget, told his Senate colleagues they should have stood "shoulder to shoulder" and forced the House of Representatives to send them a tax increase rather than a plan slashing services. The Texas Constitution requires all revenue measures to originate in the House.
___The Senate budget would result in about 17,000 elderly and disabled people losing home health care service, compared to the 56,000 who would lose services in the House version of the budget.
___About 13,500 women on Medicaid would lose prenatal, labor and delivery coverage in the Senate budget, compared to 17,000 in the House proposal.
___While the Senate budget did not cut as deep into some social programs as the House version, it still denies temporary Medicaid coverage to about 10,000 parents and creates a shortfall of 412,000 vaccine doses for child immunization programs.
___"In a state that is better at vaccinating cattle than immunizing children against deadly diseases, something is very wrong," said Phil Strickland, director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission.
___"The Texas deficit has become the defining moment for Texas legislators. It is defining those legislators who will stay on the side of political safety by chanting 'No new taxes' no matter what. And it is defining those few legislators who are emerging as true statesmen because they care deeply about the needs of children."
___Strickland urged Texas Baptists and other concerned citizens to contact their elected representatives, particularly those who are named to the budget conference committee, and register their concerns about cutting programs benefiting children and the poor.
___"Do we want the reputation of being the state with the least compassion? Do we believe we can ignore the needs of children now without paying for that in the future?" Strickland asked. "We desperately need statesmen who will deal with the deficit with wisdom and a view to the future. May they emerge quickly."
___Also in the Senate, gambling opponents won a key victory in committee hearings on the Lottery Commission sunset bill. But a floor fight still is expected, according to Suzii Paynter, director of citizenship and public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
___Mike Jackson, R-Pasadena, succeeded in quashing any efforts to attach gambling expansion amendments to a bill reauthorizing the Texas Lottery Commission. However, lawmakers introduced 11 amendments before withdrawing them at the request of the bill's author.
___"The unique thing about sunset bills is that no amendments can be added on the floor that were not brought up in committee," Paynter said. "This indicates to me that 11 types of gambling expansion are likely to be brought up on the floor of the Senate. This is a time for citizen response, letting lawmakers know we oppose any expansion of gambling in Texas."
___In other developments:
___ A committee substitute version of a voucher bill was reported favorably out of the House Public Education Committee and has been sent to the Calendars Committee. The committee substitute version of HB 2465 would establish the "Education Freedom Program," providing tax dollars to eligible students so they can attend private parochial schools.
___ A bill allowing life without parole as a sentencing option in capital murder cases remains pending in the Senate, following public hearings in the Criminal Justice Committee.
___ The House approved a bill requiring women who seek abortions to wait 24 hours and be exposed to information about fetal development and abortion alternatives before their pregnancies can be terminated.
___ A bill that would have prohibited homosexuals from serving as foster parents stalled in a House committee. The House State Affairs Committee heard lengthy testimony opposing the bill, and Committee Chairman Ken Marchant, R-Carrollton, chose not to bring it up for a vote because it lacked support from committee members.
___ The Senate approved a bill mandating a moment of silence in public schools for reflection or prayer and requiring the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited. The bill is pending in the House.
___ The Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriages or recognized civil unions, passed the Senate and is pending in the House.
___The Texas Christian Life Commission has established a page on its website that provides daily updates on legislation of interest to Texas Baptists. The page may be accessed at www.bgct.org/clc/publicpolicyintexas.
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