Heated confrontations, last-minute hustle revives dead mental health overhaul bill

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A $100 million overhaul to the state’s mental health system survived a hectic, heated, and bitter fight between Republican leadership in the Texas House and a small group of Tea Party House members. 

A bill establishing the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium was left for dead earlier in the night on a technicality, found by Bedford Republican Jonathan Stickland. The Consortium was a key part of Senate Bill 10, one of Governor Greg Abbott’s priority items. SB 10 was voted unanimously out of the Texas Senate and needed to pass the Texas House by midnight Tuesday. 

Rep. Stickland noticed the bill analysis did not adequately describe the bill, leaving out all the organizations the bill would impact and who would be on the governing body of the Consortium. 

The legislative fight would not end there. 

Around 11:30 PM, the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, acted out a plan to revive the bill: recall a school security bill already passed and attach SB 10 language to the bill. The plan worked despite multiple heated confrontations and parliamentary attacks known as ‘points of order’ between Stickland, Zerwas, and Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

There is no recording device at the front of the Texas House chamber but the three men could be heard from the press table cursing multiple times. 

“I’m sick of this sh**,” Stickland said to a crowd formed around the dais.

“Oh, you only like the rules when they work for you,” said Rep. Zerwas. 

“Argue your point of order and move on,” Speaker Bonnen said to Stickland.

The amendment passed 130-14 over protests from Rep. Stickland and his allies in the Texas Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative House members.

The bill, which would coordinate mental health services through 12 health-related institutions.

The goal of the consortium is to create a network of comprehensive child psychiatry access centers. Those centers would train pediatricians and primary care providers operating in a certain region.

The goal is to get mental health care to students faster. It was one of the priority items of Governor Greg Abbott after the deadly Santa Fe shooting. The leader of the Texas Senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, marked the bill as a priority and the chief Senate budget writer was the main author of the bill, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. 

Opponents of the bill say the bill is too broad and could lead to unintended consequences. Many Tea Party House members disagree such a measure is in the proper role of the Texas state government. 

The Texas Senate must now approve the changes made to Senate Bill 11 – which is likely – before the bill goes to Governor Greg Abbott to sign. 

KXAN’s Russell Falcon contributed to this story. 

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