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State Representative Susan L. King, who represents District 71, held a legislative forum on Thursday morning, October 25 on the second floor of the Hall Law Firm.
The gathering opened with a brief discussion on the upcoming 83rd Legislative Session, which will begin on January 8, 2013. While they meet for only 140 days on odd-numbered years, an additional session can be requested. With six lawsuits, King said, the extended session is highly likely.
The main topics that will be at the forefront of this session will be the budget, health care--which is contingent on the Affordable Care Act, public education and the six lawsuits being brought, and water. Other matters will include transportation and higher education.
Most of these issues were included in the open forum, in which citizens offered ideas and voiced their concern while conversing with the representative.
A couple retired teachers in the audience from the area spoke on the retired teachers' programs in the state. A retired teacher--who taught over 30 years in Blackwell--asked King about any possible changes and her thoughts regarding the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) of Texas.
While currently a planned benefit, King said that some people want to change the program to become more personal and similar to a private sector entity. Others have an idea to leave it as it is for current beneficiaries but change it for new teachers. However, the latter could possibly hurt teacher recruiting.
King stated that the huge focus right now regarding public education is on finance.
Another teacher stated that she rolled over from TRS to ERS, the Employees Retirement System--a three-tier program that is more equal. The teacher--who taught 20 years in the Snyder and Roscoe school districts--feels that TRS should become more like her program of choice.
The state representative acknowledged both differences in each program and stated that TRS should become a more equal-system program. She also shared that this teacher took the time to write four letters to the legislation, proving that to bring change, action can be taken rather than griping about the problems.
The renewable energy market and its storage issues were a topic of discussion, as the legislation has the ability to make an impact with wind, solar or a combination of both energies. Natural gas in the state was also brought up, as Texas could either be on the cutting edge of the market or a potential energy crunch.
Furthermore, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) is a big factor in wind expansion, but its uncertainty is in the air. All sides of the energy issue must be examined.
King noted that all energy sources are being looked at, and the government's role could prove to be a great opportunity to have an effect on renewable energy. She added that they are working on determining the responsibility and incentives from the government, and in reevaluating the issue, the issue could possibly be discussed this session.
Healthcare also made its way into the forum. King was asked about her feelings regarding the scope of practice model for health care providers, in which she explained that the issue deals with the different training and education for the health care professionals.
Typically, the groups of focus are nurse practitioners and physicians, though the discussions are usually pushed aside. But, when the matter is brought up, it is mostly done by people who are not even involved in healthcare.
King added that the government's role will bring a decrease in access, but the main question is if nurse practitioners are qualified. The debate right now is if the nurse practitioners should practice with supervision, collaboratively or in an autonomist practice.
It was noted that the current proposal is for the collaborative model, which has some restrictions. King praised the idea, but noted its loose structure in which more details should be obtained to continue open conversation for both groups.
She stressed the fact that while a nurse is not a physician, they are capable of many tasks. Though each group has their own perception on the issue, the main priority is the care of the patient and their well-being.
Medicaid reimbursements were additionally discussed, in which it was stated by an audience member that regulations would most likely change under the Affordable Care Act. Local pharmacies are seeing matters where Medicare will pay the 80% deductible, but Medicaid will write off as a complete payment, thus resulting in the pharmacy paying the cost.
While King noted that the government will make this an issue of decreased access, one of King's staffers was able to break down the issue. As the federal government tells the state what to do, the state can bring some flexibility.
In the last session, a waiver was passed in Texas where patients would pay their co-pay, offering some versatility. While the waiver is still being discussed, the staffer shared any action will depend on what administration is voted into office in two weeks.
Unfortunately, there is no current relief, and while a committee continues negotiations, nothing would be done by the January 1, 2013 deadline. King added that businesses should not have to be punished by sustaining the losses--noted as a "reverse fraud".
When asked who to pressure in order to bring change, King said that it must start with the state, in order to put pressure at the federal level.
Another issue King was asked about was in regards to fracking. She said that she studied the issue and while water is a concern in the matter, less than 2% of water is being used.
Some people also question what kind of water is being used--if pure water is being wasted or if other water (affluent, brackish, or saltwater) is being used. No mandate is currently in place, but King said we all must be concerned with how water is being used at all times to in order to avoid future problems.
And while not an issue at hand, the Texas Veterans Commission was praised for their work, as the state program is looked as an example. King was praised for her support, in which she noted that veterans are one of four demographics that are to be at the forefront. Stability in the program, she said, should continue.
King wrapped up the meeting thanking everyone in attendance, but not before recognizing a young audience member. A seventeen year old student was asked about why she came, in which she passionately shared her concern for the country; King noted that this type of passion and drive for information was the reason the meetings are held.