House OKs money for kids with dis­abil­i­ties, but it’s not on Ab­bott list

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Johnathan Sil­ver jsil­ver@states­man.com Con­tact Johnathan Sil­ver at 512-445-3631.

In a show of unity Thurs­day, the Texas House voted 138-0 to give ini­tial approval to leg­is­la­tion that would re­store tens of mil­lions of dollars in fund­ing for ther­apy ser­vices for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties.

There’s just one prob­lem though: it’s not one of Gov. Greg Ab­bott’s 20 pri­or­i­ties for the spe­cial ses­sion, making the bill’s fate un­clear.

House Bill 25, by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West Univer­sity Place, needs a fi­nal vote be­fore head­ing to the Se­nate.

The bill would take about $70 mil­lion from a dis­as­ter re­lief fund held by Ab­bott’s of­fice. It also would spend more than $90 mil­lion in fed­eral funds to­ward fund­ing ser­vices.

In 2015, law­mak­ers cut $350 mil­lion in state and fed­eral money for ther­apy providers that mostly serve 60,000 Texas chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties. At the time, law­mak­ers pointed to a study that showed Texas was re­im­burs­ing rates not as high as in other states. Davis said Thurs­day the study’s find­ing was in­cor­rect.

“I be­lieve that I have a moral obli­ga­tion to do what­ever I can to re­verse those ef­fects,” Davis said from the House floor.

Davis ini­tially pro­posed tap­ping about $70 mil­lion from the state’s rainy day fund. But Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, of­fered an amend­ment that would in­stead take the money from the dis­as­ter re­lief fund. Krause said his amend­ment would make it eas­ier for the whole body to vote in fa­vor of Davis’ bill, but she re­quested that mem­bers ta­ble his amend­ment, a mo­tion that failed 53-73. Shortly af­ter that, House mem­bers adopted Krause’s amend­ment.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San An­to­nio, praised the cham­ber for pass­ing the bill.

“The House voted to­day to pro­vide $70 mil­lion in fund­ing for speech, oc­cu­pa­tional and phys­i­cal ther­apy ser­vices for chil­dren. With a unan­i­mous vote, the House showed that we be­lieve fur­ther restor­ing ser­vices for th­ese chil­dren should be part of what we ac­com­plish in this spe­cial ses­sion,” Straus said in a Face­book state­ment. “I am proud of the House for coming to­gether to sup­port House Bill 25 and I hope the Texas Se­nate will join us in try­ing to help th­ese fam­i­lies.”

Davis and Krause also have called on Ab­bott to add fund­ing for ther­apy to his spe­cial ses­sion call, but the gov­er­nor wants his 20 items taken care of first.

“This bill is not ger­mane to the gov­er­nor’s call,” Ab­bott spokesman John Wittman said in a state­ment Thurs­day. “Once the House and the Se­nate pass the other 20 items on the gov­er­nor’s agenda, he’ll be happy to con­sider adding other items to the call.”

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