Talking Travis: Donna Howard
District 48 rep on the pros and cons of getting studies passed
By Richard Whittaker,
11:59AM, Mon. May 11, 2009
Last week wasn’t the best week in Rep. Donna Howard’s legislative career. May seem like an odd thing to say, considering her HB 3276 made it to Senate. That’s a better fate than most bills manage: But the first rule of lawmaking is that bills change. What she introduced was a revamp of the TEXAS Grant program, prioritizing college-ready kids for the grants. After a series of procedural delays, she lost a vote to have effectively the entire bill replaced by an amendment authored by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. What made it to Senate simply instructs the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to study the issue of awarding grants based on college readiness in the interim, instead of actually doing it now. Her disappointment was obvious: she felt her original language took the grants back to their original intent. "It wasn't just given to people who graduated from high school and were financially needy, but people who graduated on the recommended high school plan, which was supposed to make you college ready, as well as being financially needy." However, for that partial defeat that split Democrats, she's had some major successes taking on the conservatives of the State Board of Education.
Before becoming a state rep, Howard ran for the board twice, and this year has worked on several bills to curb its powers. "I guess the biggest would be (HJR 77), the constitutional amendment transferring the Permanent School Fund from the State Board to a new management body. I think the bill to webcast [their meetings] will make it through. I hope it will," she said,
The former nurse also has her share of medical bills, like HB 2719, sealing a sovereign immunity loophole in the Nursing Practice Act. Howard explained, "Right now, nurses who are working in public hospitals do not have the same protections as nurses who are working in private hospitals." That bill got unanimous support last week from the Civil Jurisprudence committee, and now heads to the floor, she was happy to report.
That's not her only nursing bill in the works. She's also pushing towards easier electronic sharing of medical records. HB 3270 would launch a study for indicating "brand necessary" on electronic prescriptions, so unsuitable generic drugs are not distributed instead (currently, that has to be handwritten). Similarly, HB 1218 would launch an electronic medical record sharing pilot project, which she hopes could involve Austin's "Integrated Care Collaborative, which is about 40 different safety net providers: Hospitals, hospital districts, clinics and so forth." The bills are, she said, “fairly small bills in a sense, but they allow the big system to work.”
Even with a hard slog ahead, Howard feels that the session is still open, and that is due in part to the administration of Speaker Joe Straus. She said, "There's a sense that if you pay attention, and you build relationships, and if you know the system, and you learn your bills, if you cross your T's and dot your I's, that at least you have a shot. You may not be successful, like I was not successful with my Texas Grants, but it was mine to make happen or to lose. It wasn't because there was leadership putting something in the way."