Attorney general opinion addresses definition of electronic voting machine

A Texas attorney general opinion issued in October says a voting machine producing marked paper ballots as an added security measure qualifies as a direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machine under Texas law as long as it meets additional statutory requirements.

Election Code, sec. 121.003 (12) defines a DRE voting machine as “a voting machine that is designed to allow a direct vote on the machine by the manual touch of a screen, monitor, or other device and that records the individual votes and vote totals electronically.”

In response to public concerns about the vulnerability to tampering of paperless electronic voting systems, some manufacturers have developed systems that produce marked paper ballots of electronic votes that are available if needed for an audit or recount. These systems typically work by having the voter make selections electronically, then receive a marked paper ballot, which is sometimes placed in a physically separate scanner and tabulator. Other paper ballot-producing systems require voters to feed the marked paper ballot into the same device they used to vote. Like a traditional DRE voting machine, a paper ballot-producing DRE system records a voter’s selections on a removable data storage component that is taken elsewhere for tabulation at the end of voting.

The chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources in October 2017 requested an opinion on whether paper ballot-producing systems qualify as DRE voting machines, whether such systems may include more than a single piece of equipment, and whether systems that produce paper ballots are eligible for the state’s countywide polling place program.

According to the attorney general’s opinion, the fact that electronic voting machines “provide the added benefit of a marked paper ballot to better protect against voter fraud” does not disqualify them as direct recording electronic voting machines. The opinion also says a court likely would conclude that the Legislature did not intend to limit DRE voting machines to those that operate using a single piece of equipment.

The opinion also says a county may use electronic voting machines with a paper-based component in a countywide polling place program as long as these systems meet the other requirements of DRE voting machines. Under Election Code, sec. 43.007, the countywide polling place program allows some counties to eliminate precinct voting locations in most elections by establishing countywide polling places, known as super precincts or Election Day vote centers, which may be located anywhere from grocery stores to shopping malls. Participation is limited to counties that use DRE voting systems and provide a computerized voter registration list at each countywide polling place that can verify instantly that a voter has not already voted elsewhere. According to a report from the Texas secretary of state for the November 2016 election, 45 counties participated in the program.

by Rita Barr

Posted in General Government | Tagged , , , ,

New law requires freestanding emergency centers to post health insurance information

A law enacted in 2017 by the 85th Texas Legislature, HB 3276 by Oliverson, requires a freestanding emergency medical care facility to list all health insurance plans for which the facility is a participating provider. These facilities, which have become more common across Texas in recent years, are not physically attached to a hospital, although they may have a hospital affiliation.

Under the new law, which took effect September 1, 2017, facilities must post at the facility or online a notice of the health benefit plans for which they are in-network or post at the facility a notice that states that they are not in-network for any health benefit plan. If a facility makes information available only online, it also must give the patient written confirmation of whether it is a participating provider in the patient’s health benefit plan.

The new requirement under HB 3276 builds on a 2015 law, SB 425 by Schwertner, which directed a freestanding emergency medical care facility to post signs and to state online that it charges rates comparable to a hospital emergency room, that the facility may not be in-network for the patient’s health benefit plan, and that a physician at the facility may bill separately from the facility for the medical care provided to a patient.

Supporters of HB 3276 said it would help prevent surprise medical bills for patients who did not have adequate time to check whether the facility was in-network before using it in an emergency. They said that by requiring freestanding emergency medical care facilities to provide clear notice about which health plans are in-network, HB 3276 would help consumers make more informed medical decisions. Some freestanding emergency centers use wording such as “we accept all health plans,” although they are out-of-network for many plans, which can be confusing for patients during an emergency. Supporters said the bill also would reduce the burden on freestanding emergency medical care facilities by allowing them to post health plan network information online, where it can easily be updated.

Critics of HB 3276 said freestanding emergency centers may have contracts with many different health plans under one insurance company name, and even when acting in good faith, centers may have trouble keeping this information current due to the number and variety of plans with which they contract.

Other proposals. In addition to HB 3276, the 85th Legislature considered but did not enact several other bills related to freestanding emergency medical care centers. SB 1592 by Schwertner would have changed the administrative penalties that could be assessed against these facilities. SB 1352 by Watson would have required notice of health care fees to be posted in both English and Spanish. HB 3122 by Farrar would have notified patients whether the facility accepted Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare, and HB 3099 by Paul would have required patients to be notified that a freestanding emergency medical care center was not an urgent care center, which generally charges lower rates.

by Lauren Ames

Posted in Insurance, Public Health, Regulation and Licensing | Tagged , , , ,

Texas Legislature’s 2017 regular and special sessions in review

domecenterThe 85th Texas Legislature considered a variety of issues in 2017. Members filed 6,800 bills and joint resolutions during the regular session, which ended May 29, and 560 bills and joint resolutions during the first called session, which ended August 15. In the regular session, 1,211 bills were approved by both chambers and sent to the governor for approval, followed by 12 more during the first called session.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a total of 1,019 bills into law and allowed 153 to become law without his signature. The governor also vetoed 50 bills and some individual line-items in the general appropriations act.

Among the major bills enacted were those that addressed voter ID, sanctuary cities, community-based foster care, municipal pension systems, school finance, texting while driving, and abortion reporting requirements. Summaries of some of the regular session’s major issues — including both bills that were enacted and those that failed to become law — are available in the House Research Organization’s (HRO’s) latest focus report, Major Issues of the 85th Legislature, Regular Session and First Called Session. The report includes a digest of each bill, as well as supporting and opposing arguments offered during consideration of the legislation.

The Legislature also approved seven resolutions proposing amendments to the Texas Constitution, all of which were approved by voters in the Nov. 7, 2017, election. More information is available in the HRO report Constitutional Amendments Proposed for November 2017 Ballot.

Bills vetoed by the governor included measures addressing guardianships, voting by mail, water regulation, and public school accountability, among others. Information about vetoed bills is available in the HRO report Vetoes of Legislation: 85th Legislature, which includes a brief summary of each vetoed bill, the governor’s stated reason for the veto, and a response to the veto by the author or the sponsor of the bill.

by Janet Elliott

Posted in General Government | Tagged

Legislature directs some pre-K spending on quality standards

The 85th Texas Legislature last year eliminated funding for a grant program designed to improve the quality of prekindergarten (pre-K) programs but adopted a budget rider requiring all districts and charter schools offering pre-K to use a portion of their regular formula funding to meet the program’s established high-quality standards. These standards, contained in Education Code, secs. 29.167 – 29.171, include requirements for curriculum, student progress monitoring, teacher qualifications, and family engagement. Continue reading

Posted in Public Education | Tagged , , , ,

Laws let Texans donate to fund testing of sexual assault kits

Two laws enacted by the 85th Legislature this year allow Texans who are obtaining a driver’s license or registering a vehicle to contribute money for the testing of evidence from sexual assaults or other sex crimes. By early 2018, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles expects to have the system available for vehicle registrations and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) plans to begin collecting donations during the driver’s license application process. Continue reading

Posted in Criminal Justice, Public Safety | Tagged , , ,