My mother died in a nursing home. It was not what she would have wanted, nor I, but sometimes circumstances leave no other option. On the day after I moved her into the quarters that she would occupy for the final two months of her life, I drove back to Austin. No sooner had I pulled into the driveway than my wife came running out of the house. “Don’t even get out of the car,” she said. “They mishandled your mother and she fell and broke her hip. You have to go back.”
This sad episode was the first thing I thought of when I saw that Governor Rick Perry had vetoed House Bill 1001. The bill was simple enough: It directed the state agency that oversees nursing homes to study the reimbursement rate paid by the state for Medicaid patients, which is so low that some homes are going under and many more are on the verge of closing. Nursing homes need more money not only to stay in business but also to attract better workers, who will care enough about their patients that they won’t mishandle them, as they did my mother. The bill had the support of nursing home owners and patient advocates. It could do no harm, and it might do some good; studies and hearings during the nineteen-month gap between legislative sessions are a long-established way of addressing difficult problems. Perry knows this; he has been a legislator and lieutenant governor. So why did he veto the bill? The issues “are well known and do not need to be studied yet again,” his veto proclamation read. They require “action, not study.” That’s good sound bite material—but when the Legislature tried to take action this past spring in the form of a fee on nursing home beds that would be matched at the rate of 150 percent by federal funds, guess who scotched the plan after first agreeing to support it? Rick Perry.
This is one little-noticed bill among 82 that Perry vetoed, but it raises the question that just about everyone in the Texas political world was asking, Why? The governor’s nay-saying completely overshadowed a pedestrian legislative session; nothing that occurred during the 140 days that the Legislature met was half as memorable or meaningful as what Perry did after it went home. Coming from someone who ascended to office by filling a vacancy, who had a minuscule legislative program of his own, who seldom got involved in the legislative process, and whose name and views were not