With Texas’ 87th Legislative session a little more than two months away, the coronavirus is on the agendas of two legislators from the Rio Grande Valley who pre-filed bills targeting public health in a region ravaged by the virus.
State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, filed bills to provide presumptive coverage to first responders and school district employees who contract the virus, as well as exempting disinfectants and facemasks from certain taxes for a limited time while state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. filed bills seeking to address the public health response and ongoing health-related needs in the Valley.
“Given the nature of the coronavirus pandemic and the current public health crisis disproportionately affecting border Texans, these bills mark the first set of critical legislation I am authoring to address the capacity of border public health departments and chronic health concerns of the region to improve outcomes on diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity which make South Texans more vulnerable to the devastating effects of COVID-19,” Lucio said in a news release.
Lucio prefiled Senate Bills 114, 115 and 116 on Nov. 9 — the first day for filing for the next Legislative session.
The bills would direct the Texas Department of State Health Services to establish a Border Public Health Multi-Disciplinary Response Team to deploy during outbreaks, public health threats and disasters in border counties; to assess the capacity and resources of border laboratories while establishing inter-local agreements for border laboratory resources and allow for year-round testing for border counties needing this service; and develop a public health initiative to reduce the adverse health impacts of diabetes, hypertension and obesity in adults and children living on the border through education, screening and preventative treatment.
Lucio cites the challenges border communities face from regular crossings between Texas and Mexico, as well as a lack of access to care, high unemployment, chronic diseases and poverty as challenges health departments face on the border that are not faced in other communities in Texas as a reason for these bills.
While Lucio’s proposals are more big picture, Canales’ coronavirus bills are targeted.
In House Bill 34, Canales proposes that any public safety employee who tests positive for the coronavirus that results in partial disability or death will have been presumed to have contracted the virus during their course of employment. House Bill 47, also filed by Canales, makes the same proposal for school district employees.
Canales said on Facebook that his top priority is ensuring school employees and first responders who become infected with COVID-19 are protected with workers compensation financial help.
Lastly, in House Bill 89, Canales seeks to exempt disinfectant cleaning supplies, certain facemasks and disposable gloves from sales and use taxes for a limited period of time.
Canales has also pre-filed the most bills out of any members of the Rio Grande Valley delegation to the Texas House of Representatives on the first day of filing.
Some of those bills include proposals to lower the penalties for people convicted of possessing marijuana concentrate; for the establishment of a pilot program for the issuance of digital identification; and for exempting textbooks by college students from sales and use taxes for limited periods.
So far, the only other two representatives to prefile are Brownsville Reps. Eddie Lucio III and Alex Dominguez.
Dominguez filed three bills which include proposals to provide funding to school districts for the building of inclusive playgrounds for students with disabilities; to allow doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana at their discretion; and to allow veterans to earn college course credit for experience, education and training gained while in the military.
“Our men and women in the armed services have gained valuable training, experience, and certifications that should be treated equal to similar course offerings in our colleges and universities. This legislation would speed up the process for them to join our workforce,” Dominguez said in a release.
Lucio III filed a bill relating to community supervision conditions for people convicted of certain criminal offenses involving animals and a bill that would put a price cap on co-payments for insulin in Texas at $100 per 30-day supply.
“As a member of a community with one of the highest diabetic populations in the country, I am proud to file this piece of legislation to ensure every single Texan has access to affordable insulin. HB 82 will have a tangible impact on the lives of countless Texans and is more necessary than ever in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in a news release.
The 87th Legislative Session begins on Jan. 12, 2021.