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2013-04-04 digital edition

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2013-04-04 / General Stories

State Senate Week in Review

All applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program would have to take a drug screening under a bill passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. This drug screening is basically a survey intended to identify likely drug users. Applicants who fail that screen would have to take a drug test before they could receive benefits. Applicants with prior drug convictions or who have failed a drug test in the past would also have to take drug tests.

The first time an applicant fails a test, he or she loses personal benefits for six months, but family related benefits will continue. The second failure results in a loss of benefits for 12 months, with an option to reapply after six months if the person enters or completes a drug rehab program. If a person fails a third test, they are out of the program permanently. The bill was amended to add a protective payee provision to make sure that children don’t lose money because of a parent’s drug abuse. If a parent fails two or three drug tests, another family member will be named by the state as the protective payee and will manage the children’s TANF funds instead of the parent. “My intent is absolutely not to hurt the children,” said bill author Jane Nelson of Flower Mound. “But I believe that if mama is a serious drug abuser, that money is not helping. That money is buying drugs.”

In floor action this week, the Senate approved a bill Monday intended to manage the rising cost of Medicaid long-term care while at the same time expanding services. SB 7, also by Senator Jane Nelson, would extend the state’s STAR + Plus managed care system to include nursing homes and into rural areas. It would create a more accurate needs assessment test to ensure that clients only get the services they need. Nelson said the bill should be cost neutral, as expansion costs will be covered by savings through waste reduction in the system. That bill now heads to the House for consideration.

Wednesday, the Senate approved the nomination of Michael Williams as Commissioner of Education. In that role, Williams oversees the Texas Education Agency and is in charge of public education through high school. Williams was appointed to the post by Governor Rick Perry last summer. A former Texas Railroad Commissioner, Williams was praised in his Senate Nominations Committee confirmation hearing Monday by members of both parties for his work so far and his focus on improving outcomes for minority students.

The Senate reconvened Tuesday, April 2.

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