AUSTIN - The current walkout in the Texas House of Representatives staged by a large group of House Democrats has seemingly put an end to State Representative Dwayne Bohac’s House Bill 1860, a measure that would have protected public safety officials from exposure to hazardous materials.
The bill, which would provide for reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by public safety employees for preventative care from line-of-duty exposure to hazardous materials, was set to be on the General State Calendar today. But with Friday’s deadline approaching for all House bills to be sent to the Senate, little hope remains that the bill will make it to the floor as the House of Representatives enters the second day of a historic standoff led by the Democrat Caucus.
“I am saddened to see such an important bill that had broad bipartisan support perish at the hands of petty partisan politics,” said Bohac. “This was an important bill to our firefighters, police and other public safety employees who now will be left waiting two more years to receive protection from exposure to life-threatening hazardous materials.”
Current law provides for reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by public safety employees for preventative care from line-of-duty exposure to certain contagious diseases. It also provides for preventative immunization or vaccination of firefighters and other governmental employees who respond to emergency medical calls or who operate an ambulance for any disease these employees may come into contact with while performing their official duties. House Bill 1860 would have expanded the law to add exposure to hazardous materials for which there is a preventative medical treatment, immunization, or vaccination available.
“I was asked to file this bill on behalf of a group of Houston firefighters who stand on the front lines every day and serve as the first defense in the case of a chemical or biological attack,” continued Bohac. “They deserve to have the piece of mind of knowing, should the worst happen, they will be taken care of and that every possible step will be made to insure their safety. How do you explain to them that a legislative temper tantrum was more important than keeping them safe?”
All but a few Democrats went into hiding Monday to keep the House from meeting as a protest of legislation before the Republican controlled House. Speaker of the House Tom Craddick responded by ordering state troopers to find and arrest the missing lawmakers and return them to the House floor. The House cannot convene without at least two-thirds of the membership, or 100 members, present on the House floor under legislative rules.
In a statement released yesterday by the Speaker shortly after the House failed to reach a quorum, Craddick referenced the men who stayed to fight at the Alamo and noted “it’s not a disgrace to stand and fight, but it is a disgrace to run and hide.” Of the 62 Democrats in the Texas House, four were present yesterday and received the gratitude of the Speaker and their fellow members. They were Representatives Roberto Gutierrez (McAllen), Vilma Luna (Corpus Christi), Sylvester Turner (Houston) and Ron Wilson (Houston). Representatives Harold Dutton (Houston), Al Edwards (Houston) and Helen Giddings (De Soto) arrived this morning. At this time the House is still in need of five more members to conduct business.
House Bill 1860 is one of hundreds of important bills that now appear to be dead due to the shutdown. In addition to covering public safety employees, the bill would have also allowed for preventive treatment to be given to any member of the employee's immediate family, since many of these materials can be brought home on the body and clothes of the public servant and affect the members of their household. During public testimony before the House Business & Industry Committee, several Houston firefighters appeared in strong support of the bill.
“This is a bill that I believe needs to be addressed by the Legislature. Many firefighters and other public safety employees suffer exposure to hazardous materials in the line of duty that eventually lead to deadly diseases such as cancer when simple preventative treatments are available now,” said Bohac. “This is not right.”
“This was a great bill and I believe this is the right thing to do for these brave men and women,” concluded Bohac. “Although this is a disappointing setback, the Legislature will be back in session in two years and I am determined to file this bill again.”