May 3, 2007
Liz and I have been running around with each other a long time.We met at Saginaw Elementary School up near Fort Worth. We started dating when I was about 14 and she was 15. We got married when we were the ripe old ages of 21 and 22.Anyway, I’ve seen her do a lot of cool things over the years: be a cheerleader and an excellent athlete, lead in the student council, be voted Miss Boswell High School, go off on her own to college, help me through law school, anchor and report television news, become a hospital executive, nurse several family members through various illnesses, birth two boys, make sure all holidays are special, keep all of our finances, and maintain some semblance of calm during all sorts of kid stuff, political ya-ya and life its own self. And she still looks pretty good, even though we’re no longer kids.This year, she’s been President of the Austin High Lacrosse Club. I have no doubt that her influence helped our varsity lacrosse team become Texas Central District Champions.Suffice it to say that she’s been busier than I have this spring. Lacrosse is a club sport that’s managed by an executive committee of parents. No money is provided by the school. So uniforms, balls, insurance, coaches’ pay, and other expenses are paid for by fundraising or parents.Today, she’ll lead the whole crowd up to Dallas for the statewide Final Four, where Austin High will be the only team from a public school. Tomorrow is the first game. Go Maroons.
Off the lacrosse field, we’ve had a pretty good week. A bill I authored to recycle computers passed through the Senate yesterday. The legislature also officially passed the first bill I filed this session. House Bill 407 – the companion to my own Senate Bill 286 – was approved by the House of Representatives and accepted by the Senate. The bill creates a grant program for services such as Meals on Wheels that provide home-delivered meals to the elderly and people with disabilities. It’s now headed to the Governor’s desk.And, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I had an opportunity to work with Senator Judith Zaffirini on a bill that would change the way Texas plans for higher education. The Senate passed that bill, Senate Bill 1234, last week, and hopefully we can get that up to the Governor, too.
There are just 25 days left in the legislative session, and one of our most important issues is still up in the air – Texas’ Children’s Health Insurance Program, or what government types call “CHIP.”Texas is dead last in the number of kids with health coverage, and CHIP is hands-down one of the most effective tools our state has to keep children healthy.CHIP is a health insurance program for families who can’t afford coverage on their own. The security CHIP provides to these families not only saves Texas money by treating kids before they have to go to the emergency room, but it actually attracts more than $2.50 in federal money for every dollar we spend.That makes it a heck of an economic development tool. Instead of those federal dollars flowing to other states, that CHIP money would go to doctors and clinics and multiply through our local economy.CHIP also takes pressure off small business owners who just can’t provide affordable health insurance for employees and their dependants. It’s even a great tool in schools – our education dollars go a lot further when we’re teaching healthy kids.Unfortunately, the legislature cut CHIP to the quick in 2003. State lawmakers cut funding, decreased benefits, and made it more burdensome for moms and dads to enroll their kids. Now, lawmakers are scrambling to get partly back to where they were before the cuts.At its peak, CHIP provided care to over 500,000 young Texans. That’s down to just over 300,000 now, and the news gets worse – just yesterday, the state announced that 17,000 fewer children will have health coverage through CHIP this month than had it last month.The Senate Finance Committee is reviewing several bills that would restore some CHIP funding and improve access to the program. Specifically, we could make sure kids are eligible for coverage for a year at a time, not just six months. (We could do more, but some legislators are planning to hold back money we have today because they worry they’ll need it in two years to pay for tax cuts that, as it turns out, we can’t afford. That’s another story, of course.)Right now, the CHIP “enrollment period” is six months. If you don’t see the cynical genius of using red tape and bureaucracy to keep kids off the CHIP rolls, just think of when you had to sign up for health insurance. Think about all the documents you had to produce and the forms you had to fill out.Then imagine that you had to prove you weren’t making too much money to qualify for your kid’s health plan. And then imagine that you were working at least full-time, and maybe two jobs, to take care of your kids.Even if you are really on top of things, this would be a pretty tough drill to go through every six months. As I’ve said, CHIP works. It not only saves Texans money, but most importantly it keeps our kids healthy. We should embrace this opportunity to invest in our state and our future.