ustxtxb_obs_2007_04_06_50_00020-00000_000.pdf

Page 1

by

Bad Bills, continued from page 14 A series of “Keep yer butts in the car” billboards went up in 1999 as an offshoot of the “Don’t mess with Texas” campaign. Hayes says such campaigns work and would be a better investment than locking up litterbugs. From 1995 to 2001, the number of cigarette butts tossed onto Texas roads fell 70 percent, according to a study commissioned by the Texas Department of Transportation. Berman, though, isn’t content to hang his hopes on a slogan. “It’s not enough,” he says, with all the wildfires smoking still causes. “Why wouldn’t you want to create an additional penalty?” PRO-LIFE PAYOLA Senate Bill 1567 Perhaps overly enamored with the legislative process, freshman Houston Republican Sen. Dan Patrick takes the procedural call to “move adoption” too seriously. Or maybe he thinks so little of women that he believes a flash of cash will influence one of the most important decisions they make. Either way, his proposal to give $500 to women who offer babies for adoption instead of aborting them has united a broad spectrum of critics. Opponents say the legislation trivializes the decision women with unintended pregnancies have to make. “It’s a decision that our clients take very seriously,” and the bill doesn’t respect that, says Sarah Wheat, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region. Adoption researchers don’t like the idea either. “Placing a child for adoption is one of the most excruciating decisions a woman can make,” says Adam Pertman, executive director of the New Yorkbased Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. “If there’s money involved, especially if the women are poor and struggling, it introduces a potentially coercive factor, and they can make a life-changing decision for the wrong reasons.” Because the payment is small, the bill would most likely affect low-income women the most. “It’s providing an economic incentive for the poorest of women to give up their babies,” says Laurie Felker Jones, deputy political director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. Court Koenning, Patrick’s chief of staff, says the amount is based on the cost of an early abortion. “The intent is to make someone think twice about it,” he says. “Do we think that it would be worth it to go through labor for $500? No.” Koenning says the hope is that, “one, the woman will understand how much the state appreciates life, and two, she will see that the state respects children and think it’s worth it to go through the process to find someone to care for her child.” The message seems the opposite: The state is not willing to support the child or the mother in any meaningful way. Though under this bill a woman could collect $50 a month for carrying her baby to term, medical costs for giving birth usually run about $8,500, and Medicaid pays for more than half of the births in Texas, Felker says. The best way to reduce the number of abortions is to prevent unintended pregnancies, Felker says. A better way to help women who don’t feel they can support a child is giving them subsidies so they can raise the children themselves, Pertman says. Adoption and abortion providers agree that women with unintended pregnancies should be well-informed about all their options so they can make the right choices. To Patrick’s credit, he has also filed a more effective adoption bill, SB 1098, which would help parents buy health insurance for children adopted out of foster care. The more support you can give parents who are taking care of these kids, the better chance the kids will succeed, Pertman says. Vultures rarely attack the healthy. The wounded and sick are so much easier to kill. We’re down with that. More than 8,000 bills have been filed this legislative session and, we’re dive-bombing as many of the weaklings as we can. E-mail your nominations for Bad Bills to [email protected] texasobserver.org overwhelmed by the number of calls, inadequate and poorly trained staff, and malfunctioning technology \(Accenture’s “dual entry” solution was Wait times and backlogs of applications swelled. Accenture sent out renewal letters dated May 8 that informed clients their deadline for reapplying for benefits was April 15. One Accenture fax number mistakenly routed benefit applications to Seattle. After four months, HHSC halted the call-center rollout on May 10, 2006. It never resumed. HHSC scrambled for a backup plan, rehiring thousands of state workers and paying out “retention bonuses” to keep temporary screeners. Cleaning up the Accenture fiasco cost the state $30 million, according to HHSC, money it still hopes to recoup from Accenture. For now, state employees once again are handling screening and enrollment. But with the loss of so many longtime enrollment workers, a system that functioned well before the call-center experiment has suffered permanent damage. Texas used to routinely earn good-performance bonuses from the food stamp program for its mistake-free enrollment system. In 2004, for instance, the feds paid the state $150 million in bonuses. Now it’s the opposite. For the first time in years, Texas’ food stamp enrollment error ratethe number of applications the state botchesexceeded the national average in 2006. If the error rate breaks the national average again this year, Texas will face penalties and sanctions from the federal government that could approach $30 million. In a recent hearing, Herrero asked Hawkins why HHSC didn’t heed warnings from the federal government, auditors, and the agency’s own contractors. “I thought it better to follow the direction of the Legislature,” he said, “and to achieve the savings [from the callcenter plan] … to fit within the [HHSC] budget.” In other words, he ignored the warnings so his agency could realize the estimated savings. It was an ironic answer since the call-center rollout ended up costing the state millions. 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 6, 2007