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Travis County prepares for 87th Texas Legislature

Tuesday, December 22, 2020 by Seth Smalley

Last Tuesday, Dec. 15, Travis County Intergovernmental Relations Officer Julie Wheeler presented the draft agenda items for the upcoming Texas legislative session to the Travis County Commissioners Court.

The 87th Texas Legislature will convene on Jan. 12, and the legislative agenda will be a living document, with updating positions to represent the policy priorities and principles of the Commissioners Court and the county.

Wheeler recommended five legislative priorities, two of which were new, be adopted by the Commissioners Court. The significant reduction in the usual number of agenda items was due to Covid-19, Wheeler explained. The priorities would reflect the opinions of the Intergovernmental Relations Office and legislative consultants, according to a publicly available memo, which can be seen in its entirety below.

Among the two most recent additions to the legislative priorities were supporting “the removal of statutory language that requires local governments to practice balanced billing,” and supporting legislation “that would require electronic submissions of competitive bids and proposals.”

The first priority, removing the requirement to practice balanced billing, would impact STAR Flight services, a helicopter rescue service provided by the county. Because of balanced billing, Wheeler explained, Travis County must collect payments from individuals rescued by STAR Flight if their insurance can’t cover the full balance.

“We are currently in a position where we spend more time and money trying to get money for those remaining balances than we would actually collect. This would allow us to continue to provide those services without having to essentially become debt collectors,” Wheeler said.

Of the second legislative priority, Wheeler said, “it was very difficult to accommodate running two different processes; we had to go virtual.” She said the proposal to make all submissions of competitive bids online would allow the county to modernize its practices.

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Photo by Daniel Mayer, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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