UPDATE 5/20/21 6:34 pm: SJR 19 has been scheduled for a floor vote of the full House on May 24. Supporters may contact their state representative

With the end of the 87th Legislative Session fast approaching, time is running out for bills aiming to ensure no Texan in long-term care facilities is banned from being with their loved ones, as happened in 2020. A citizen organization has issued a call to action before it’s too late.

Senate Bill 25 and Senate Joint Resolution 19 passed unanimously by the Senate in March have been sitting in the House Calendars Committee, which schedules bills for votes by the full Texas House, since April 30. SB 25 has finally been scheduled for a vote by the full House on Sunday, but as of publication time, no movement has been made on SJR 19.

“With the exception of [State Rep.] Toni Rose (D–Dallas), who is also on the House Human Services Committee, [the Calendars] committee has not heard our testimonies regarding our loved ones’ suffering or anything from us—not our stories, petitions, proposals, books, photos, nothing,” wrote Mary Nichols of Texas Caregivers for Compromise in a call to action. “But they have the ability to end the months of work that Senator Lois Kolkhorst and the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services invested in us, our loved ones, and this legislation.”

Both bills would enshrine into law the right for a designated caregiver to visit those in nursing homes and state-supported assisted living centers, even during emergency-related restrictions, and no facility could ban visitation for caregivers longer than 14 days a year. The bills are in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s mandates and restrictions last March during the Chinese coronavirus situation, when Texans found themselves banned from being with their loved ones in long-term care facilities.

“People inside long-term care facilities obviously do not want to live alone and isolated, and we have stripped families of that basic human right, which is a family relationship. We’re all entitled to have a family relationship,” Nichols previously told Texas Scorecard.

Several key deadlines in the Texas House are approaching. The Calendars Committee has until 10 p.m. on Sunday, May 23, to schedule bills for a vote by the full House, and Tuesday, May 25, is the last day the House can consider Senate bills and Senate joint resolutions on second reading. Bills are finally passed on third reading. Wednesday, May 26, is the last day Senate bills and joint resolutions can be voted on third reading.

Texas Scorecard contacted the office of each member of the House Calendars Committee.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock), the committee chair, did not respond to our press inquiry before publication time.

“We’re supportive of [those bills],” Ellic Sahualla, chief of staff for State Rep. Joe Moody (D–El Paso), told Texas Scorecard. Moody is vice chair of the committee. Sahualla was asked what efforts Moody is making to ensure these bills receive a vote on the floor of the House by Tuesday.

“The way the Calendars Committee works … it’s a procedural committee,” said Sahualla.  “It’s a matter of one getting the paperwork over there, and then sifting through many priorities, and figuring out the best place to put these things on different calendars.”

“There’s still a lot of life in calendars,” he said.

When Texas Scorecard contacted the office of State Rep. Cody Harris (R–Palestine), asking him about these bills and mentioning citizens’ concern for them, Scott Gilfillan—Harris’ legislative director—asked us to clarify if it was constituents of House District 8 (Harris’ district) who were concerned. “We just haven’t heard anything on these bills,” Gilfillan said. “He’s not going to do anything to stand in the way of these bills.”

Paige Bufkin, chief of staff for State Rep. Ana Hernandez (D–Houston) said Hernandez is a sponsor of SB 25 and has filed a companion bill to State Rep. James Frank’s (R–Wichita Falls) version in the House.

“Over the past year, Texas has allowed the elderly and infirm to be isolated and alone when they need the companionship and love of their family,” former State Rep. Matt Rinaldi told Texas Scorecard. “These bills are an important step in righting at least one wrong of the state’s misguided and abusive COVID response.”

As of publication time, only SB 25 has been scheduled for a vote by the full House on May 23. Concerned citizens may contact their state representative. No action has yet been taken on SJR 19, and Nichols has asked citizens to contact the House Calendar Committee Members.

“Tell them how important it is that … SJR 19 (the resolution calling for essential caregivers to be put on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment) be put on the House calendar before that window of opportunity closes.”

House Calendar Committee Members:
Chair Dustin Burrows: (512) 463-0542
Vice Chair Joe Moody: (512) 463-0728
Rep. Craddick: (512) 463-0500
Rep. Harris: (512) 463-0730
Rep. Hefner: (512) 463-0271
Rep. Hernandez: (512) 463-0614
Rep. Leman: (512) 463-0600
Rep. Patterson: (512) 463-0694
Rep. Rose: (512) 463-0664
Rep. Slawson: (512) 463-0628
Rep. Talarico: (512) 463-0670

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.