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Rep. Chris Turner: Medicaid Expansion Not Dead In Legislature

Office of Rep. Chris Turner

Gov. Rick Perry has said there’s no way he’ll sign legislation that expands access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, what he calls Obamacare.  But one North Texas Democrat believes that issue is still alive and kicking in the legislature.  And Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie says there’s also some good news about money for public schools.

In today’s “Capitol Closeup” he tells KERA’s Shelley Kofler why he’s feeling optimistic.

With eleven weeks down and nine to go this legislative session is more than half over.  

“Now is the time the legislature really begins to focus on the business of the state,” Turner says.

And the legislator, who represents Arlington and Mansfield, says there’s no bigger business than public education. 

Like most Democrats, he’s been calling for lawmakers to restore the $5.4 billion cut from schools two years ago. 

Last week the Senate’s initial budget reinstated almost a third of it. Then, the House’s chief budget writer said the House would restore at least $3 billion, more than half of what was lost.  And Turner believes public education could receive more money before the final budget is written.

He says the extra funding identified would be distributed based on enrollment instead of being tied to specific programs.

“It would help districts hire new teachers.  I think it will help them reduce class sizes, and restore some of the materials’ budgets that have been impacted.  And I think we’ve seen, too, a reduction in extra curricular activities and in some cases electives offered,” Turner says, adding that he hopes all the money cut in 2011 will eventually be restored.

On the other big-money issue, Medicaid expansion, Turner says, “I don’t think it’s dead at all.”

Perry may be saying Texas won’t agree to Obamacare rules.  But Turner says no one, including Republicans, wants to walk away from the billions of federal dollars the state will lose if it doesn’t increase access to Medicaid and insure another 1.5 million Texans.

“One of the major reasons I am encouraged is because there is such broad support in the business community and the health care community," he says. "When you have chambers of commerce across the state passing resolutions saying Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for Texas.  When you have the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Medical Association, the family physicians saying we need to pass Medicaid expansion, that puts a lot of pressure on the legislature to come up with a solution.”

And, he adds, "“I think Republican members of the legislature want to find a Texas solution to Medicaid.”

As a staffer for former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, Turner worked on veterans issues in Washington.  It’s a cause that’s followed him to Austin. 

In 2009, he sponsored a bill that created a lottery scratch-off ticket that has raised $27 million for veterans services including emergency housing, medical care and counseling for post traumatic stress disorder. 

He's proposed a bill this session (House Bill 2027) that would provide additional money for the veterans’ fund by annually allocating about $5 million of unclaimed lottery prize money to that fund.

Turner also hopes to employ more veterans with a bill (House Bill 2028) that would give them credit for military experience when they’re obtaining licenses to work as plumbers, electricians and in other trades.

And he wants universities to be able to keep certain unspent financial aid and make it available to students who are veterans. (House Bill 3265

With the legislative clock ticking, Turner says the wheeling and dealing is now shifting into high gear.  He’ll be trying to push the bills he's writtened, but he’ll also be weighing in on his top two priorities – more school funding and Medicaid.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.