March 22, 2007
Last week in the Watson Wire, there was a “typo” suggesting I was only turning 34 on my birthday this past Sunday. In the spirit of the old rule that “the cover up is worse than the crime,” let me be clear – I’m not 34.I’m 40.Okay, fine. I’m 49. But we all know that 49 is the new 34.Based on this little misunderstanding, it appears that readers of the Watson Wire break out into three broad categories. There are those who knew or figured out that I wasn’t really 34, but enjoyed my wishful thinking and were willing to allow an aging man a moment of fantasy.There are also those folks who apparently believe that, for the past 15 years, I’ve been dying my hair gray and plucking the hair from the back of my head so I could display male pattern baldness. These are the people who actually asked me if I really was 34, or who said something hurtful like, “I thought you were older than that.”Finally, there are people who obviously couldn’t care less. Those are the ones that really hurt.
No matter our differences, however, I believe we can all agree on one problem we share: we need more opportunities to see me on TV. Fortunately, KVUE – Channel 24 through the air, Channel 3 on cable – will have me on their Sunday morning newscast, KVUE News Daybreak, the day after tomorrow. I don’t know what time my segment will be on, but the show starts at 7 a.m.I think we’re going to do this every week, at least for the foreseeable future. Once it’s been on TV, I’ll put the broadcast on www.kirkwatson.com.This should be a pretty cool deal. I hope it will provide a valuable inside look at state government – particularly as we get into the heat of the session, the work picks up, and bills start flying.We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, tune in to KVUE on Sunday morning. As you all know, there’s a lot to talk about.
In the last two weeks, you’ve seen some of my environmental and economic development bills. This week, I wanted to present some of my bills regarding health and human services.Frankly, I see all of these areas as basically the same thing. It’s hard to keep our economy humming if our environment is in tatters, just as it’s hard to protect the environment when there’s no money to preserve land or clean up the air.Well, these connections are even stronger when it comes to healthcare. The economy can’t function when so many people face catastrophe if they get sick or injured. Nor can the state cover most of our priorities when it spends so much money ignoring small health problems until they become big ones, or paying for emergency room visits instead of providing cheaper treatment alternatives.Many of my bills were influenced by – or, perhaps, stolen from – the Code Red report. This is an essential work by several of Texas’ smartest health care professionals, advocates, and academics. The University of Texas System published it last year.If you haven’t read it yet, take a look at it. It’s a brilliant roadmap showing not just where we need to go, but how far we have to get.
I’ve written about some of these bills in previous WatsonWires. Today, I want to showcase Senate Bill 922, which would create an innovative program to help small business owners provide healthcare to their employees.The plight of the small business owner is one of the tragedies within our healthcare system that people don’t talk about nearly enough. These are good folks who play a crucial role in our economy and in our communities – no one has done more to Keep Austin Weird, and to Keep Austin Working, than our small business owners. They’re also close enough to their employees to really know them, and they care deeply about their folks.The problem is, they’re small businesses. They can’t pool their employees the way bigger corporations can, and they can’t afford the health coverage plans that the big insurance companies will offer them.So, just like many of their employees, these businesses simply can’t afford health insurance.SB 922 would create a local pilot program to help these businesses and their employees. Two or more counties could establish a regional health program, paid for by employers, employees, and state grants.Money is the crucial part of the bill. Nothing technically stops local officials from setting up a program like this now, but there’s no way they can afford it. With state help, however, we can keep far more people healthy, save tax dollars that go into emergency room visits, and help our small business owners and their employees sleep easier at night.In Texas, we talk a lot about “economic development.” But the phrase doesn’t, and shouldn’t, just mean tax breaks and hands-off regulations for big business. It also means keeping Texas’ small businesses healthy. This bill would be a big step in that direction.Here are some other health-related bills I’ve filed this session:Senate Bill 996: Allow Leave for CaregiversMany family leave policies do not provide enough flexibility and support for the unique needs of folks who help seriously ill family members. Senate Bill 996 would allow workers who are entitled to sick leave or other paid time off to use it to care for certain family members with serious medical conditions. Read more.Senate Bill 1919: Build Texas Medical SchoolsThere is little debate that Texas needs more places to train doctors and nurses. But such concerns can evaporate in the heat of inter-regional economic development politics. Senate Bill 1919 would create a commission to study how medical education resources have been allocated and distributed across Texas – and how much more we need to be doing. Read more.Senate Bill 837: Support Prevention FirstThe surest way to prevent termination of a pregnancy is to prevent the pregnancy. Senate Bill 837 would focus on the women and families at the center of this debate, requiring the state to get behind a marketing campaign to reduce unintended pregnancies and transmissions of sexually transmitted diseases. It also mandates that parents know far more about what and when their kids are being taught about sex. Read more.Senate Bill 286: Increase Home-Delivered MealsPrograms that deliver meals to the elderly and infirm, such as Meals on Wheels, operate with a combination of federal and private donations. But Texas could do a better job meeting many of its goals at a very affordable price. Senate Bill 286 would provide additional money so that more persons with disabilities and elderly Texans can receive home-delivered meals. Read more.Senate Bill 458: Equalize Workers’ Compensation Texas workers’ compensation laws do not address orthotic devices or prosthetic devices as physical structures of the body. That means workers’ compensation would pay to treat a leg that was broken in an accident, but it would not pay for the repair or replacement of an artificial leg hurt in an identical accident. Senate Bill 458 would clarify that workers’ compensation healthcare includes prosthetic or orthotic devices. Read more.Senate Bill 1107: Empower the Travis County Healthcare DistrictThree years ago, Travis County voters created the Travis County Healthcare District. This bill, among other things, establishes that the District will meet its financial obligations, ensures operations are cost-effective and efficient, and puts the district on the same footing as other districts across Texas with regard to tax assessment. Read more.Senate Concurrent Resolution 28: Increase TelemedicineMedical technological advances shouldn’t be all about giant machines, expensive tests, and dramatic cures. They also need to work more subtly to help people get well and stay healthy. Senate Concurrent Resolution 28 urges the Texas Congressional delegation to support federal legislation expanding telemedicine and telehealth services, particularly in home healthcare settings. These are the house calls of the future. Read more.Thanks for your interest on these critical matters facing Texas.