Featured, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who also serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation; Sally Fraustro Guerra, President/Publisher, Socialife Magazine, and Real Estate Broker, Coldwell Banker La Mansión Real Estate; and Robert C. Vackar, CEO of Bert Ogden Auto Group. They posed for this image, taken at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Thursday, February 6, 2020, during a panel discussion and luncheon, hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, featuring area superintendents speaking about the goals they aim to reach, the future of dual enrollment, and the educational challenges they face.
Photograph By NAYELI ZENTEÑO
School employees, first responders who become infected with COVID-19 would be protected with workers compensation financial and medical help under legislation authored by Rep. Terry Canales
School employees and first responders in Texas who become infected with COVID-19 would be protected with workers compensation financial help if they contract the disease and lose time from work, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced.
Canales authored and filed House Bill 34 and House Bill 47 on Monday, November 9, 2020 – the first-day state lawmakers could begin introducing legislation for the upcoming 87th Texas Legislature, which begins its five-month regular session on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.
“Currently, public school employees and first responders would have to prove they contracted COVID-19 during their employment,” Canales explained. “But under my legislation, the insurance company would have to prove otherwise.”
First responders may be peace officers, paramedics, firefighters, detention officers, county jailers, or emergency medical service employees who work for a political subdivision in Texas, like a city, county, or school district. Volunteer first responders should ask their manager if they have workers’ compensation.
Workers’ compensation is an insurance program managed by the State of Texas. It provides vital help, such as providing for partial lost wages, medical expenses, and rehabilitation costs if a person is forced to miss work due to an injury or illness. Not all Texas employers provide workers’ compensation insurance, but most do.
Canales said his legislation builds on the action by Gov. Greg Abbott, who on March 30, 2020, postponed certain statutory provisions (parts of state laws) to ensure that public safety employees (first responders) who contract COVID-19 during the course of their employment will be reimbursed for reasonable medical expenses related to their treatment of COVID-19.
“Gov. Abbott’s waiver isn’t permanent and doesn’t go far enough, to protect first responders and their families, and Texas also needs to provide the same protections for all school employees and their families,” Canales said.
As the author (also called the primary author), Canales is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process.
When a legislator files a bill, the word “files” means the lawmaker has introduced a proposal – known as legislation – that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number, such as House Bill 1 of Senate Bill 3, etc.
Canales’ action comes as COVID-19 confirmed cases continue to rise to alarming levels in Texas.
As of Sunday, November 1, 2020, Texas had surpassed California in recording the highest number of positive coronavirus tests in the U.S. so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, reported ABC News.
As the coronavirus pandemic surges across the nation, the data from that Sunday, November 1, 2020 — the most recent available at the time of the ABC News report — stated that there had been 938,503 cases in Texas, the nation’s second-most populous state. Texas health officials also had reported more than 18,000 deaths so far from COVID-19.
He also filed a COVID-19 related measure – House Bill 89 – which would help Texas consumers save state sales taxes on disinfectant cleaning supplies, certain medical face masks, and disposable gloves, from the state sales and use taxes during the state’s annual “Emergency Preparation Supplies Sales Tax Holiday”, which occurs in late April.
According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, natural disasters will continue to happen, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prepare yourself for emergencies that can cause physical damage like hurricanes, flash floods, wildfires, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers can purchase certain emergency preparation supplies tax-free during the sales tax holiday. There is no limit on the number of qualifying items you can purchase, and you do not need to give an exemption certificate to claim the exemption.
Those previous three measures are part of a list of major legislation that Canales filed on Monday, November 9, 2020, or will be introducing into the Texas Legislature in the coming few weeks.
“My staff and I have been working for several months on key issues that are needed locally, regionally, and/or statewide, and many are based on the incredible vision of Texans from all walks of life,” he said. “The Texas House of Representatives is known as ‘The People’s House’, and I encourage anyone to continue to contact me and my staff with their ideas, concerns, and requests dealing with the Texas Legislature in general, and my legislative specifically.”
Among the first round of legislation that is being filed by Canales – which includes legislation from 2019 which did not make it out of the Texas Legislature – are the following subject matters:
• Relating to proposing a constitutional amendment to authorize and regulate the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis;
• Relating to severance payment to a superintendent or administrator serving as an educational leader and chief executive officer of an open-enrollment charter school;
• Relating to criminal asset forfeiture proceedings;
• Relating to proposing a constitutional amendment authorizing certain judges to become candidates for another office without automatically resigning from the office already held;
• Relating to the inclusion of a magistrate’s name on certain signed orders;
• Relating to exempting textbooks purchased, used, or consumed by university and college students from sales and use taxes for limited periods;
• Relating to the creation and promulgation (formally putting into effect) of certain standard forms for statewide use in criminal actions;
• Relating to the payment of gratuities (tips) to certain employees;
• Relating to the establishment of a pilot program for the issuance of digital identification;
• Relating to the appointment of an individual to a school district board of managers by the commissioner of education; and
• Relating to the expunction (erasing from the public record) of arrests and files relating to certain criminal offenses.
CORONAVIRUS DATA ON NURSING HOMES RELEASED FOLLOWING ATTORNEY GENERAL RULING
Following an open records letter ruling issued Monday, July 6 by the Texas attorney general’s office, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in late July released the names and locations of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, state hospitals, and state-supported living centers (SSLCs) where staff or residents have contracted the novel coronavirus.
Details of that action were released on Thursday, September 17, 2020, by the House Research Organization. The House Research Organization is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives.
HHSC had sought clarification from the attorney general’s office on whether certain information was subject to required public disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act, Government Code ch. 552, following requests from individuals and advocacy groups for the names and locations of long-term care facilities that had experienced COVID-19 cases. HHSC cited federal and state privacy laws in seeking the ruling from the attorney general.
The attorney general stated in the July ruling that the information sought by members of the public through the Public Information Act was not protected health information as defined by HIPAA and the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act.
The Texas Medical Records Privacy Act uses the federal HIPAA definition of protected health information, which includes individually identifiable health information. Individually identifiable health information includes demographic data collected from an individual.
• Is created or received by a health care provider, health plan, employer, or health care clearinghouse; and
• Relates to the physical or mental health condition of or provision of health care to an individual and either identifies the individual or is information with respect to which there is a reasonable basis to believe it could be used to identify the individual.
In addition, the ruling concluded that HHSC was required to disclose the names and locations of facilities that had experienced COVID-19 cases because the request for the ruling had failed to demonstrate that the facility-level data requested under the Public Information Act included the following types of information excepted from disclosure:
• Nursing facilities’ quality improvement records under Health and Safety Code sec. 242.049(d);
• A statement of violations that is the subject of a pending informal dispute resolution process for assisted living facilities under Health and Safety Code sec. 247.051 (d);
• A report, record, or working paper used or developed in an abuse, neglect, or exploitation investigation of boarding home facilities, which provide lodging and other services to elderly individuals or persons with disabilities under Health and Safety Code sec. 260A.008; or
• Medical records of the identity, diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of a patient by a physician under Occupations Code sec. 159.002(b).
Since the July 6, 2020 ruling, HHSC has published on its website the data indicating where COVID-19 cases have occurred at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, state hospitals, and SSLCs. For each type of facility, the data include the names and addresses of facilities that have had cases, the number of active and cumulative cases among residents and staff, and the number of resident recoveries and deaths.
Federal data. A federal rule (85 FR 27550) that became effective on May 8, 2020, requires nursing home facilities to report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Suspected and confirmed COVID-19 infections among residents and staff, including residents previously treated for COVID-19;
• Total deaths and COVID-19 deaths among residents and staff;
• Personal protective equipment, hand hygiene supplies, and ventilator capacity in the facility;
• Access to COVID-19 testing while the resident is in the facility;
• Staffing shortages; and
• Other information specified by the secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
The data required by the CDC begins with May 24 and is available to the public online. The federal rule’s reporting requirements do not apply to assisted living centers and state hospitals, whereas the information released by HHSC following the Texas attorney general ruling does include those places.
Curtis Smith and Alison Hern contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission. Rep. Canales represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.