House approves Medicaid bill, but it’s not one of Abbott’s priorities

Aug 03, 2017
  • By Johnathan Silver
  • American-Statesman Staff
State Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston-area Republican, holds up her amendment to a bill on the Texas House floor on May 10. In a show of unity Thursday, the House approved a Davis bill that would restore ten of millions of dollars in funding for therapy services for children with disabilities. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In a show of unity Thursday, the Texas House voted 138-0 to give initial approval to legislation that would restore tens of millions of dollars in funding for therapy services for children with disabilities.

There’s just one problem, though: it’s not one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20 priorities for the special session, making the bill’s fate unclear.

House Bill 25, by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, needs a final vote before heading to the Senate.

The bill would take about $70 million from a disaster relief fund held by Abbott’s office. It also would spend more than $90 million in federal funds toward funding services.

READ: Legislature keeps cuts to program for poor kids with disabilities

In 2015, lawmakers cut $350 million in state and federal money for therapy providers that mostly serve 60,000 Texas children with disabilities. At the time, lawmakers pointed to a study that showed Texas was reimbursing rates not as high as in other states. Davis said Thursday the study’s finding was incorrect.

“I believe that I have a moral obligation to do whatever I can to reverse those effects,” Davis said from the House floor.

Davis initially proposed tapping the state’s about $70 million from the state’s rainy day fund. But Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, offered an amendment that would instead take the money from the disaster relief fund. Krause said his amendment would make it easier for the whole body to vote in favor of Davis’ bill, but she requested that members table his amendment, a motion that failed 53-73. Shortly after that, House members adopted Krause’s amendment.

RELATED: Parents rebuke lawmakers for cutting Medicaid money for therapy

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, praised the chamber for passing the bill.

“The House voted today to provide $70 million in funding for speech, occupational and physical therapy services for children. With a unanimous vote, the House showed that we believe further restoring services for these children should be part of what we accomplish in this special session,” Straus said in a Facebook statement. “I am proud of the House for coming together to support House Bill 25 and I hope the Texas Senate will join us in trying to help these families.”

Davis and Krause also have called on Abbott to add funding for therapy to his special session call, but the governor wants his 20 items taken care of first.

“This bill is not germane to the governor’s call,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement Thursday. “Once the House and the Senate pass the other 20 items on the governor’s agenda, he’ll be happy to consider adding other items to the call.”