State of Texas: Going beyond the call for children

AUSTIN (KXAN) – State lawmakers are just days away from the end of the special session with a lot of work ahead. But there’s still a push from some legislators to get action on one bill that’s not on Governor Greg Abbott’s call.

Child advocates worry that Texas will have more disabled adults in the years ahead if lawmakers don’t take action now to get much-needed therapy to children. “These are services to help children swallow, and speak, and walk,” explained Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place). She filed House Bill 25, which would raise the amount of state funding to help pay for child therapy services.

In the last legislative session, state lawmakers decided they were paying too much for those services compared to other states. They voted to cut payments to therapy providers by more than $300-million dollars. Some providers have since canceled contracts with the state – saying they cannot afford to provide services at the reduced cost. Families in rural areas of Texas have been among the first to see the impact of the cuts.

Rep. Davis’s bill cleared the Texas House by a vote of 138-0. But the bill faces roadblocks moving forward. Dallas Morning News Austin Bureau reporter Robert Garrett pointed to opposition in the state Senate.  “They’re still not persuaded that what they did back in 2015 has created harm,” Garrett said. “Until that happens, I don’t see Greg Abbott touching it.”

Garrett, along with John Moritz of the USA Today Network, joined host Josh Hinkle for KXAN’s State of Texas. Both Garrett and Moritz covered Governor Mark White, who passed away last week at the age of 77, and shared their perspectives on White’s legacy. “Mark White was a very bright lawyer,” said Garrett, who covered White starting from the time when he served as Texas Attorney General in the early 1980’s. “He, I think, evolved when he became governor to become more progressive than people expected, and certainly left a legacy on public education.”

White is remembered for education reforms during his term as Texas governor. He led the push for House Bill 72, which raised teacher pay and reduced class sizes in Texas. But it also required teacher testing and created the No Pass, No Play policy in Texas. “It’s now taken as a given,” Moritz said of the policy that requires athletes to pass their public school classes. “But back when it went in, a lot of football coaches, a lot of football players, a lot of football dads and moms were quite upset by the new requirements.”

White stuck with the unpopular changes, and it hurt him at the ballot box. He lost his bid for re-election in 1986. “He joked that he was the only one who actually lost his job because of teacher tests, because all the other teachers passed their test just fine,” Moritz said, recalling a joke White would tell after his election loss. The impact of losing after taking a stand to make major change is also part of White’s lasting impact at the Capitol. “One thing you don’t see as much of [today] is someone who’s willing to stick his neck out on the line and basically challenge the lawmakers to pass it regardless of the consequences,” Moritz said.

Texans from all sides of the political spectrum paid tribute to White before his burial at the Texas State Cemetery. George W. Bush spoke at his funeral. “He served to lead the people of Texas to a better future, and his principles were firm,” said Mr. Bush. Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson paid tribute at the State Capitol, where White’s body was brought to lie in state. “We will remember him as an extraordinary education governor who was willing to do right,” Johnson said.