Five Things Gov. Greg Abbott Didn't Say In His 2017 State Of The State Address | KERA News

Five Things Gov. Greg Abbott Didn't Say In His 2017 State Of The State Address

Jan 31, 2017

Gov. Greg Abbott spoke for almost an hour Tuesday in his “State of the State” address. Almost as notable as the contents of that speech were the hot topics he didn’t mention.

Here are five key issues the governor avoided Tuesday, with annotations by public radio reporters and editors across the state.

1. Refugees And President Trump’s Travel Ban

While the governor was speaking inside the State House, Texas Muslims were holding their annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day on the grounds outside. Here’s a Facebook Live from the rally.

Abbott did not mention President Trump’s controversial executive order suspending travel to and refugees from seven countries on Friday. Here’s the text and NPR’s annotation of that order.

That sparked a weekend of confusion at airports — at least nine people were detained as long as 30 hours at DFW International — and protests in cities including Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

Abbott also did not mention his move to withdraw Texas from the U.S. refugee resettlement program in September, leaving the process to nonprofits including Refugee Services of Texas and the International Rescue Committee. President Trump’s executive order Friday has resulted in the cancelation of more than half of the refugee resettlements planned in the next month in Texas.

Rick Holter, KERA in North Texas

2. Women's Privacy Act (a.k.a. The Bathroom Bill)

This legislation has been a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick since he helped to defeat a proposed ordinance in Houston that would have extended non-discrimination policies to transgender people. Despite the backlash in North Carolina over a similar law, Patrick has called this legislation one of the most important bills of the 2017 legislative session.

Abbott didn’t mention the issue Tuesday, and state Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) said after the speech that its absence "might be good news."

The reason? The lieutenant governor says he is still working toward getting enough support to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate. So far there are 15 writers and co-sponsors on the bill. But it takes 19 senators to bring a bill up for a vote. No mention by the governor and no sign of significant support in the House (Speaker Joe Straus doesn't see an urgency to pass it) could make that magic number harder to reach.

The bill as filed would penalize municipalities and state-funded institutions that allow a transgender person to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. It would also increase the criminal penalty for several offenses, if they are conducted in a bathroom, and would block any local government from passing a non-discrimination ordinance that allows transgender bathroom access.

Several business groups, including the Texas Association of Business, issued a report that said the law would cost the state millions, even billions in lost business and events.

Ben Philpott, KUT in Austin

3. Special Education In Texas Schools

Abbott didn’t mention the federal investigation into special education in Texas. That issue has been the target of public outrage since a Houston Chronicle investigation revealed that Texas could be denying tens of thousands of children with disabilities needed services guaranteed by federal law.

The Chronicle reported that in 2004, state administrators created an arbitrary benchmark that directed school districts to keep special ed enrollment to 8.5 percent of all students. Since then, participation rates in Texas have fallen to the lowest in the country. The national average is about 13 percent.

Federal education officials toured Texas in December and are planning to return in late February to gather more information, to see if the state has violated federal law. Some leaders, including House Speaker Straus, have called a special ed overhaul. And the education commissioner, Mike Morath, told reporters in December he would eliminate the de facto cap. Advocates and parents are getting impatient and are putting on pressure for quick change.

Laura Isensee, Houston Public Media

4. Health Care And Possible Repeal Of Obamacare

Today is the last day for open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Despite Gov. Abbott’s steadfast opposition to the law, he didn’t mention health care or Obamacare once in his address.

Roughly 1.3 million Texans bought health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Despite these gains, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates Texas still has the highest number of uninsured residents nationwide: nearly 4.5 million people.

Part of the reason so many Texans still don’t have health insurance is that state lawmakers haven’t expanded Medicaid.

Polling done by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows Texans are significantly more likely than adults nationwide to report that it has gotten harder to see a doctor in the past two years.

In 2016, several major health insurers (including Aetna, United Healthcare and Scott and White) announced they would not offer plans on the federally-run marketplace. Both the health insurance plans available under the Affordable Care Act and the plans available through Texas employers have tended to be more high-deductible, bare-bones plans.  

If the Affordable Care Act is repealed by Congress, that could have a major effect on the Texas economy as well. According to the Commonwealth Fund, the repeal of Obamacare could cost Texas 175,000 jobs.

But a repeal would be good news to many small and mid-size Texas companies, says Marianne Fazen, president of the Texas Business Group on Health. The employer-mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide affordable health insurance. Fazen says some companies have had to add staff to meet reporting requirements and avoid paying penalties.

Lauren Silverman, KERA in North Texas

5. Women’s Health

In his 2015 State of the State, Abbott called for more funding for women’s health programs. And while the 84th Legislature did allocate an additional $50 million for women’s health, that came after years of drastic cuts to the state’s family planning budget and the cutoff of state funding to Planned Parenthood. Abbott has threatened for years to ban women’s health clinics that also provide abortions from receiving any Medicaid funding.

A little background: In 2011, Texas kicked out women’s health providers like Planned Parenthood from the joint state-federal women’s health care program. As a result, the federal government stopped contributing money (it had previously provided 90 percent of the funding for the program). This forced the state to re-launch the Texas Women’s Health Program solely with state funding.

So what’s changed? The state’s program, “Healthy Texas Women does include more health care workers than were available in 2011, but many clinics have not reopened since the funding cuts. It is also true that in 2015 Texas began funding women’s health services at historically high levels. Though the analysis of how the funding translates to women’s health is complicated.

Lauren Silverman, KERA in North Texas