First for Texas lawmakers: save medical boards taken hostage

Texas lawmakers gavel into a special session, July 28, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Texas lawmakers gavel into a special session, July 28, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The first thing lawmakers must do in the special session is save several medical boards taken hostage a few months ago. Different factions within the Texas legislature, and the Republican Party, are setting different paces for how fast to work.

Gov. Greg Abbott put 20 items on the special session call. Many are hot button, controversial issues. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he wants to pass all of them.

Speaker of the House, Joe Straus, R- San Antonio, does not.

Technically, continuing the Texas Medical Board and four other boards is the only thing lawmakers can work on at first. It’s known as a sunset bill and, without it, several medical and mental health agencies will cease to exist in September. A Texas Medical Association Board member told me that this threat is simply unprecedented.

Dr. David Fleeger, a colon and rectal surgeon from Austin, says, “It’s really frustrating. The situation we’re in is really a game of politics.”

The Texas Medical Board ensures Texas doctors are licensed and have the authority to write prescriptions. If nothing is done by the fall, we will have unregulated medicine.

In the spring, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t allow lawmakers to continue the agency because the House — and Speaker Joe Straus — didn’t pass his priorities: a property tax cap and a bill restricting bathroom use to biological sex. In a recent New Yorker article, Speaker Straus said he was “disgusted” by the issue.

Lt. Gov. Patrick says he has pushed for the issues to save property taxpayers money and create a safer environment in Texas bathrooms. Critics are skeptical.

So lawmakers couldn’t agree and left the Texas Medical Board to dissolve. “It’s a little unknown as to what will happen if the TMB goes away. It’s never happened before. It’s sort of going to be the wild west,” said Dr. Fleeger.

On day one of the special session, the lieutenant governor’s Senate changed its pace. Despite Democrat attempts to delay, senators suspended their rules to send the medical board bill to the House as soon as Wednesday. That’s where Round Rock Rep. Larry Gonzales say they’ll get to work.

“These bills were held hostage — not my wording. They were held hostage and killed for a purpose. My goal is to come back here and pass these bills like we should have passed in May,” said Rep. Gonzales.

Many expect the Texas House to not move as fast. Leaders there are in no rush to get to the other 19, more controversial items the governor put on the call.

“We are comfortable with the speakers approach. We are going to be deliberate. We are going to prioritize the bills that need to be prioritized,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Some of those controversial measures lawmakers can tackle after continuing the Medical Board are: pro-life abortion restrictions, several bills taking away power from city government and putting it in the hands of state lawmakers, and again, the Texas Privacy Act critics dub the “bathroom bill.” Those debates are coming in the next 30 days.

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