Her­man: Doc­tors who serve booze skip de­bate on bill,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Ken Her­man

I went to the Capi­tol on Thurs­day in search of an an­swer to one of the big­ger ques­tions on my mind this leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Oh sure, I’m cu­ri­ous about how our best and bright­est han­dle the ma­jor is­sues of our time: writ­ing a state bud­get, de­cid­ing who goes to which bath­room, how to stop the pres­i­dent from tweet­ing and what to do about school fi­nance. (That last one can’t be too hard to solve. I’ve seen them solve it three or four times in the past few decades.)

To get an an­swer to my ques­tion, I first had to sit through dis­cus­sions of sev­eral other top­ics at Thurs­day’s 8 a.m. ses­sion of the Se­nate Busi­ness and Com­merce Com­mit­tee that dealt with busi­ness and com­merce and — sur­prise! — for­eign pol­icy.

Be­fore get­ting to the vex­ing ques­tion on my mind, which came about than two hours into the meet­ing, I got to en­joy a pro­longed dis­cus­sion about ru­ral phone com­pa­nies and an even more pro­longed dis­cus­sion about Texas-Is­rael re­la­tions.

On the phone bill, Se­nate Bill 586, we heard about how the Uni­ver­sal Ser­vice Fund af­fects the state’s 45 small and ru­ral phone com­pa­nies.

The tes­ti­mony be­gan with this from ru­ral phone com­pany guy Joey An­der­son of Muen­ster (they’ve heard all the cheese jokes, so don’t go there): “I was glad to sur­vive an­other trip down I-35.”

And then ev­ery­body talked about tele­phone stuff for a while, in­clud­ing ru­ral tele­phone co-ops, which I used to think are where you crank some­thing on the side of the phone and ask Ma­bel to con­nect you with the feed store. No ac­tion was taken on the bill, and I was en­cour­aged that we were pro­gress­ing to an an­swer to my press­ing ques­tion, one I knew would be con­clu­sively dealt with at the meet­ing.

But I wasn’t count­ing on the for­eign pol­icy de­bate ig­nited by state Sen. Bran­don Creighton’s Se­nate Bill 29. Creighton, R-Con­roe, wants the Texas gov­ern­ment to boy­cott com­pa­nies that boy­cott Is­rael. That de­bate — short ver­sion: Is­rael good, Is­rael bad — went for about an hour and no ac­tion was taken on the bill.

As that dis­cus­sion wound down, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren­ham, spon­sor of the bill that would an­swer my ques­tion, twisted and stretched in her chair as she knew she was on deck. Back in Fe­bru­ary, I told you about Kolkhorst’s Se­nate Bill 404, the one that would bar all health care pro­fes­sion­als from do­ing some­thing you can’t be­lieve any health care pro­fes­sion­als ac­tu­ally do: serve al­co­holic bev­er­ages in the

wait­ing room to pa­tients and par­ents of pa­tients.

This might be funny if it wasn’t. Kolkhorst told the com­mit­tee it hap­pens, some­times with what docs like to call bad out­comes. (Docs talk funny. They never say, “pain.” They say, “discomfort.”)

Kolkhorst, a den­tist’s daugh­ter, said the mea­sure is part of her con­tin­u­ing ef­fort re­gard­ing “strug­gles we have in pro­tect­ing chil­dren in den­tal of­fices, and the gen­eral public as well.”

“A va­ri­ety of med­i­cal providers, es­pe­cially den­tists, have be­gun of­fer­ing free al­co­holic bev­er­ages at their prac­tices,” she said, adding, “These bev­er­ages are also of­fered to par­ents of pa­tients both be­fore and af­ter pro­ce­dures, which we know of­ten in­volve se­da­tion or other phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.”

She cited a League City den­tist who pro­vided al­co­holic bev­er­ages to a par­ent who was re­quired to sign loan agree­ment forms for the treat­ment for the par­ent’s son. The child suf­fered se­vere in­juries as a re­sult of the treat­ment.

The leg­isla­tive anal­y­sis of the bill re­ported “sev­eral in­ci­dents where al­co­holic bev­er­ages have been of­fered by med­i­cal providers who later go on to in­flict se­vere and per­ma­nent dam­age, of­ten dur­ing the course of pro­ce­dures later found to be un­nec­es­sary.”

So here’s the ques­tion I took to the Capi­tol on Thurs­day: Would any health care pro­fes­sional have the temer­ity to show up to ex­tol the ben­e­fits of of­fer­ing al­co­holic bev­er­ages in the wait­ing room for pa­tients and par­ents of young pa­tients about to make med­i­cal and fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions?

Kolkhorst’s bill was left pend­ing. She told the com­mit­tee she’s re­work­ing it in re­sponse to con­cerns she’s heard. One tweak will make it clear that mas­sage ther­a­pists and fu­neral home op­er­a­tors won’t be barred from of­fer­ing al­co­holic bev­er­ages to their clients. She said she also had heard from med­i­cal folks who com­plained her bill was an at­tempt at over­reg­u­la­tion.

“In the course of the con­ver­sa­tion, they ad­mit­ted that they are serv­ing al­co­hol in their den­tal of­fices,” Kolkhorst said.

These were the folks I was in­ter­ested in hear­ing from at the hear­ing. None showed up. So there’s the an­swer to my ques­tion.

“It sad­dens me in a way that I have to carry a bill that pro­hibits serv­ing al­co­hol in med­i­cal of­fices,” Kolkhorst told the com­mit­tee.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren­ham, is a den­tist’s daugh­ter.

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