Although the legislature does not meet until January 2009, important work continues this summer. In the following update are summaries of Environment, Insurance, Health and Long Term Care, Adult Basic Education and Human Trafficking.
81st Legislative Session Around the Corner
Election Day: November 4, 2008
Prefiling of legislation begins: November 10, 2008
First day of Session: January 13, 2009
What is Cap-and-Trade?
There is a growing consensus among scientists (pdf) around the world recognizing the damaging impact that greenhouse-gas emissions are having on our environment. The evidence for climate change is nearly overwhelming. There is little disagreement in the scientific community that human activities are at least in part to blame. Even though some may dispute the science behind climate change, it is clear that if current trends continue the consequences could be catastrophic.
Fortunately, a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions generated by the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels may reverse the damaging effects of climate change. A reduction may not be easy and will likely require government action and global cooperation. The United States is moving towards enacting measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The most likely measure to reduce emission in the United States is the passage of “Cap-and-trade” legislation. This proposal would set an overall cap on carbon emissions throughout the country and then issue permits, or pollution credits, granting a company the right to generate a certain amount of emissions. The permits would be sold and the total permits issued would only allow for emissions at the level of the cap. If the holder of a permit reduces their emissions to below their permitted level they may then sell their excess permits on an open market. This system not only provides for a lower amount of total emissions but creates an economic incentive for conservation, innovation and increased energy efficiency.
A similar cap-and-trade market helped to dramatically reduce the amount of acid rain in the United States in the early nineties. Europe instituted a cap-and-trade system to combat carbon emissions in 2005. Senators John McCain and Barak Obama both support a nationwide cap-and-trade system.
On Thursday, September 24, 10 Northeastern states launched the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and created a regional cap-and-trade system. This smaller scale effort to reduce emissions may serve as a model for the entire nation and give lawmakers the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of the RGGI. To read more about this new program click http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/feedarticle/7821134.
Cap-and-trade systems are effective because they make carbon-based fuels and greenhouse gas generation more expensive. These higher costs will likely be passed on to the average consumer. This is a big concern especially with the current state of the economy. Policy makers are working on plans to reduce the economic impact on families. The staff of the CLC Austin office recently heard a presentation offering one possible solution by Bob Greenstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Read more on this proposal. (pdf)
There are actions on the state level that can help prepare Texas for a cap-and-trade program. In the upcoming legislative session the CLC will support legislation designed to enhance energy efficiency, support the renewable energy industry and measure the amount of greenhouse gases currently being emitted in our state. More resources from the CLC on Creation Care.
Review of Texas Department of Insurance Creates Opportunity for Reform
A top to bottom review of the Texas Department of Insurance occurring now and a bill to be filled during the legislative session has given advocates the opportunity to seek meaningful reform of the agency. A large group has called on TDI to enact real rate oversight, to strengthen the Office of Public Insurance Counsel (OPIC) which is designed to act as an independent advocate for policy holders, to strengthen its mission to include a focus on consumer protection and to ask TDI to promote health insurance coverage in Texas. Insurance regulation is an issue that is sure to get plenty of attention during the next legislative session especially in the wake of such devastating storms along the Texas coast.
HEALTH AND LONG TERM CARE
Increase in Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Needed to Provide Care to Elderly Texans
Nationwide, the fractures of the healthcare system are affecting the need for affordable, long-term care. In Texas, our aging population is growing, but more than 53 Texas nursing homes have closed in the last 24 months; about 40% of the closures are in rural areas. This is a crisis. Much of the problem is caused by a low rate of reimbursement to nursing homes that provide care to residents who are on Medicaid. The daily rate of reimbursement is on $107 per patient but it costs $120 on average to care for a resident each day. The state of Texas is carrying a growing burden for Medicaid funding with health care costs consuming more and more of the state budget, a Medicaid shortfall of $1.2 billion is expected by December 2008. Texas ranks 49th in daily Medicaid funding and seventy percent of nursing home residents are Medicaid eligible. New service models and funding formulas are needed to protect medical services and prevent more nursing homes from closing due to lack of adequate minimal funding.
It may also become a blueprint for an eventual U.S.-wide initiative to limit emissions, since both presidential candidates — senators Barack Obama and John McCain — favor "cap-and-trade" markets which U.S. lawmakers invented to successfully cut down acid rain and which have been used in Europe to tackle greenhouse gases since 2005.
The Health and Human Services Commission will be publishing a report written jointly by the Office of the Attorney General by the end of September on Human Trafficking in Texas and the issues this criminal activity presents. Over 27 million people around the world are trapped in modern day slavery and it is estimated that over 15,000 are trafficked into Texas each year and forced to work are domestic, labor and sex slaves. We anticipate this joint report will give Texas officials and advocates a clearer picture of the issues facing Texas and what action we can take to abolish slavery in Texas.
The Texas Education Agency announced its Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) recently and it is good news. The agency responsible for coordinating and distributing funds for Adult Education programs across the state requested $50 million dollars for the next biennium for these programs. This request represents a significant increase over the previous LAR’s of around $10 million. The CLC has met with Commissioner Scott on this issue and plans to continue to push this issue during the legislative session.