November 15, 2018
As a state-supported institution, UTHealth is fortunate to have an outstanding Office of Governmental Relations. Scott Forbes, who joined UTHealth in 2007, has served as vice president of the office since 2013. He previously served as government relations manager for the Port of Houston Authority and also worked for former Houston mayors Bob Lanier and Lee P. Brown.
We welcomed Kara Crawford as associate vice president for the office in August. She previously worked for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission as chief of staff and served as the senior budget and policy adviser in the office of Gov. Greg Abbott, as well as senior staffer on health and human services issues for the Senate Finance Committee.
I asked Scott and Kara to tell us more about their office and UTHealth’s strategy for the upcoming legislative session.
What is the role of governmental relations?
We are the liaison between the university and state, federal, and local governments. We push for items that provide funding or policies that help UTHealth achieve its missions in a better and more efficient way. We also play the role of educators in informing elected officials and their staff about the missions and programs of UTHealth.
Where are we in the legislative cycle now? Where are you in your process?
We are in the interim before the 86th legislative session of the Texas Legislature, which starts at high noon on Jan. 8, 2019. Right now we are in the process of finalizing our legislative strategy and drafting legislation and appropriations riders to file.
During this time we bring elected officials and top leadership staff to the UTHealth campus to highlight programs so that they can better understand some of our requests. We also host lunches with our elected officials and members of our development advisory council to demonstrate the community support of our initiatives. We often include students from the elected officials’ districts as well as faculty and deans.
What were some of the highlights from the last legislative session?
UTHealth highlights included:
- $2.6M UTHealth state budget increase over the last biennium. Thanks to our Houston-area delegation, we ended the session with a small increase during a bad budget session that started with a $35M cut to UTHealth’s budget in the Senate.
- The $2.6M was the second-largest dollar increase in the budget, and the percentage increase was the third-best increase.
- Separately, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission was awarded $300M for mental health hospital planning and construction and dedicated $125M (or more than 40 percent) for UTHealth to build a new continuum of care campus adjacent to the UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center. Groundbreaking is expected in July of 2019.
Looking ahead, what are the big issues in the next session? What is at stake for the medical school?
For the first time, we have an exceptional item request that includes all six schools – it’s the UTHealth Women’s Health Education Research Center. We are requesting $18 million over two years to create a center providing collaborative research on areas specific to women, including causes of and strategies to impact the maternity mortality rate, women’s health risks research and prevention, training programs for women’s healthcare providers, and fetal intervention research. We feel this comprehensive approach will be well received by all elected leadership because of the timing. Women’s healthcare is an important issue for the entire state.
Another one of our big asks this year will be a joint request with MD Anderson Cancer Center for $200 million in tuition revenue bonds to help build the TMC 3 research building.
Sex trafficking has come to light as an alarming problem in Houston. We are proposing a program to treat victims of child sex trafficking. These children will be treated at UTHealth’s HCPC. The program will include 20 inpatient beds as well as outpatient telepsychiatry and our new PTSD center, the Trauma and Resiliency Center (also legislatively supported last session with $4 million for the biennium).
The full listing of what President Giuseppe Colasurdo presented to the Governor’s Office of Budget and Policy and the Legislative Budget Board may be found here.
What can we do to help? What should we not do?
When it comes to communicating with government officials, UTHealth policy is outlined in HOOP 145. Additionally, if you know elected officials, or would like to help us set our strategy going into the session, feel free to contact us (Scott Forbes, Kara Crawford). Whether it’s session or not, when faculty or staff run into a policy issue, we are happy to help facilitate government relations and interactions.
Please join me in thanking Scott Forbes, Kara Crawford, and Pam Kennedy for the very hard work of our Office of Governmental Relations. They are the bridge that helps build and solidify the tremendous support that UTHealth receives from our state and federal legislators in the House and Senate. And if you are asked to attend a tour or event with our elected officials, please make every effort to be available.