Friday, June 5, 2009

American Heart Association 81st Session Legislative Successes Benefit All Texans


AUSTIN, Texas – “Thanks to numerous proposals advocated during the 81st Regular Session by the American Heart Association, all Texans will benefit from legislation and funding proposals providing for longer and healthier lives”— Dr. Amit Khera, Co-Chair of the Texas State Advocacy Committee.

During the Texas legislative session just completed, AHA advocacy efforts led to multiple successes impacting the health of the state:

Childhood Physical Education: “Texas has the unfortunate pleasure of having a greater prevalence of childhood obesity than many other states and current projections suggest that by 2040, 75% of Texas children will be overweight,” stated Khera. State Senator Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville) and State Representative Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands) led the effort to establish a standard definition of physical education that applies to all public school physical education curriculum and to address student-to-teacher ratios in physical education classes. “Senate Bill 891 creates a definition that will establish more meaningful and cognitive physical education curriculum and will help reduce these alarming statistics,” stated Khera. Additionally, Senate Bill 891 was amended to include students enrolled in full-day pre-kindergarten and also suggests language for a 45:1 student to teacher ratio to the extent practical.

Early Childhood Nutrition/Fitness: The health of Texas school children was also addressed as the American Heart Association lobbied for the passage of Senate Bill 282 and Senate Bill 283 by Senator Nelson. Currently there are no nutritional standards or educational efforts for early childhood education settings or community and faith-based childcare settings. Seventy percent of overweight children will become overweight adults. Senate Bill 282 requires the Texas Department of Agriculture to develop two nutrition-related grant programs and authorizes the department to develop a nutrition outreach program.Senate Bill 283 enhanced the responsibility of existing school health advisory councils by requiring the designation of a chair or co-chair, at least one formal meeting a year, and a written report to be submitted to the school board of trustees annually.-more-Another effort to impact childhood obesity was the enactment of Senate Bill 395 by State Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and State Representative Eddie Lucio, III (D-San Benito). This legislation creates a seven-member Early Childhood Health and Nutrition Interagency Council to develop an early childhood nutrition and physical education plan with a recommended timeline for implementation over a six-year period. The council is required to study existing nutrition and physical education programs and requirements in early childhood settings and to consult with key stakeholders to identify barriers to improving related standards.

Heart Disease/Stroke Funding: The American Heart Association was also able to secure funding in the amount of $5.7 million from the state’s $182 billion 2010-2011 budget. $1 million was secured for the Texas Council on Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke which may be used for prevention and treatment projects relating to heart disease and stroke. Additionally, $4.7 million was secured for the Texas Department of State Health Services for Chronic Disease for local community prevention and health promotion interventions for obesity.

Health Insurance Assistance: The AHA also led the fight to help the uninsured by advocating on behalf of House Bill 2064 by State Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) and State Senator Kip Averitt (R-Waco). House Bill 2064 provided rate assistance for individuals qualifying for coverage by the Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool (THIRP) but whose income makes THIRP coverage unaffordable. The Texas Health Insurance Risk Pool was created as a safety net for the medically uninsurable, who are unable to get health coverage through commercial insurers but able to afford the risk pool’s premiums.

Comprehensive Smoking Ban: Unfortunately, the single most impactful piece of legislation, Senate Bill 544/House Bill 5 by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and State Representative Myra Crownover (R-Denton) which would have eliminated exposure to second-hand smoke in all public work places failed this session. “The fight for smoke-free air is over for this session, but our commitment to the health of Texans isn’t,” said Dr. Khera. “We will continue to work with local communities across the state to expand upon the nearly 30 that have passed comprehensive ordinances to prohibit dangerous secondhand smoke. And in 2011, we will again ask our state leaders to step up to the plate and put Texas into the league of smoke-free states,” stated Khera.

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